Author Lyndsy Spence Fires Back at Robert Sutherland’s Claims that Maria Callas was Homophobic & Anti-Semitic

By Francisco Salazar

Lyndsy Spence, author of “Casta Diva: The Hidden Life of Maria Callas,” has spoken out against controversial claims made by pianist Robert Sutherland in a recent interview with the Times U.K.

In the interview by Neil Fisher, Sutherland, who accompanied Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano on their 1973 tour, noted that in one of his last conversations with the diva, she said, “I hate homosexuals. And I hate Jews.” Sutherland also claims he told Callas‘ “Well, Maria, think carefully. Of all the people in the theatre, in opera houses, who have helped you with your career some have been Jewish, some have been homosexual. Some have been both.”

The pianist also noted that he wanted to talk about the Callas he knew because he believes the historical record has been muddied by mythology in many of the recent biographies including Spence’s which he didn’t find impressive. Regarding Spence’s work Sutherland said, “I don’t know where she got her information. I think a lot of it is supposition.”

Spence subsequently took to social media to push back on Sutherlands claims.

“I cannot accept Sutherland’s claims that Callas was against Jewish and gay people. Having combed through her personal letters, some detailing very explicit things about her thoughts and feelings, I NEVER came across racism, xenophobia or homophobia,” Spence stated.

“What is very contradictory to Sutherland’s claims is that Maria Callas’s best friend was Leo Lerman, an American writer and editor, and their friendship began around 1955 and lasted until her death in 1977. She loved Leo like a brother and considered him higher than a friend, he meant the world to her. Leo lived with his long-term partner, Gray Foy, in a beautiful New York apartment and then townhouse, and everyone accepted them as a couple. There was no secrecy. Maria adored Gray and wrote lovingly of Leo and Gray’s relationship, which I am sure would have been a civil partnership or marriage, had the laws been different back then. Leo and Gray hosted Maria for long spells in their home and really gave her refuge when everything was too much for her. As I said, they all loved and respected each other. That’s not a woman who hates gay people.”

The author also noted, “Likewise, many of her colleagues and friends were gay and had male partners with whom she socialised and loved. She also had female friends who were gay and came to Skorpios with their partners. Leo Lerman was the son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Ida (née Goldwasser) and Samuel Lerman. I guess that cancels Sutherland’s claim that Maria hated Jews. I guess it’s easier to make flippant comments about a woman who was ahead of her time in her acceptance of others. Perhaps Maria gave Sutherland ammunition because she wanted to be a traditional wife and mother and let the man in her life take the lead. But that was her expectations for her own life, not for others. She lived and let live.”

Sutherland’s statements weren’t limited to Callas and he had a few choice words for Di Stefano claiming that during the final tour, the tenor “drank heavily, didn’t rehearse, and was in much worse vocal shape than Callas.” He also claims that the two singers were having an on-off affair.

Floria Di Stefano, daughter of the famed tenor, also commented on Sutherland’s statements in conversation with OperaWire.

“I was 17 at the time and Mr. Sutherland was 43. What luck for such an unknown pianist. Years later he wrote a book, Diaries of a Friendship, and various articles where, instead of showing appreciation for the great opportunity to work with two of the greatest opera stars of the 20th century, he defames them constantly with petty gossip and lies. I expressed my feelings to him years ago after being informed of the content of his book, but here is another article filled with scandal instead of truth,” Di Stefano stated. “The title of Sutherland’s interview in The Times is offensive toward Callas, in which he claims she made a pass at him. How dare he describe Callas as a cougar and himself as her prey. Furthermore, how dare he say my father, Giuseppe Di Stefano, was often drunk when everyone knows he was a lifelong teetotaler. What Mr. Sutherland should have said was that he found himself involved working with the two artists, who were also colleagues, friends and lovers, in the most difficult time of their troubled relationship when Callas wanted my father to abandon his faithful and loving wife as his twenty-one-year-old daughter was dying of cancer.”