Book Review: Sophia Lambton’s ‘The Callas Imprint’

Examining the Evolution of a “Diva”

By Jennifer Pyron

Sophia Lambton’s “The Callas Imprint” is a comprehensive biography of Maria Callas as explored through Lambton’s uncovering of various private letters, recordings, interviews, the late Nicholas Petsalis-Diomidis’s studies of her early years, Renzo Allegri’s descriptions, and Stelios Galatopoulos’s analyses. Ultimately, it is the result of Lambton’s own self-determination and evocative of her power to will something like this into existence. 

Beginning at the age of 19, Lambton took on the role of “new Callas biographer,” allowing curiosity to guide her on the 10-year journey of a lifetime – the lifetime of Maria Callas. Not many can say they have studied Callas in as much depth as Lambton, especially as a female writer. Her level of profound insight, illustrating a vast knowledge and passion for Callas as a human being, expands the looking glass of “The Callas Imprint” into an internal mirror that reflects the very essence of what it is that makes us all human.

Connecting the Parts

Maria Callas led a cultural movement within opera that created a bandwidth enveloping both opera lovers and non-opera lovers alike. There was something about her that was intoxicating, making so many believe in whatever it was she was doing, saying, or singing. The art of living her life as a diva was not entirely her choice, however, and it is this duality between public and private life that Lambton examines in detail through every step of Callas’ career. This humanness that shakes her, grounds her, and eventually releases her back into the womb of the universe is how Lambton connects readers to “the voice.” 

Lambton’s unique approach to Callas’ trajectory illuminates her as more than a beloved singer. In fact, the recordings that Lambton transcribes throughout this book reveal Maria in her highest, lowest, and most banal moments of life. The spectrum that Lambton captures in doing so is the most honest approach to Callas’ reality that one might hope to find in a biography. It seems there is no one bias or interest to serve here: instead the main point is to make Callas as real as possible. 

One can feel the deepest thoughts of Callas thanks to Lambton’s gift for processing and writing exact details simultaneously. This insight proves to be consistent and conscious all throughout. “At rare moments in her life one caught a glimpse of all of her: the contrasts that had fused to make an alloy and the human meshing with the superhuman,” writes Lambton in the prologue, titled “Break normality.” 

Deeper and more fraught than most words can penetrate are the scenarios Lambton presents where Callas must fight for her health and, tragically, surrender to the misfortune of its decline. It seems that one may never have known in Callas’ lifetime how much she struggled to infallibly exert the strength and “workforce” that her art required. Every time she got sick she suffered, and every time she suffered she got sick. This wheel seemed to spin irrepressibly throughout her life before she “phoenixed” in her final decade – up until her own death. 

Her Heart for the People

“Sometimes Maria’s words were elementary to the point that listeners believed she struggled to identify her source of power… ‘I don’t know its source but it keeps me going on and on. There are certain things you can’t explain even to yourself,’ was how Maria described her devotion. ‘Miraculous things happen when one is onstage; one is in a second state; hypersensitive,’” writes Lambton in the final chapter, titled “Beauty is truth.” 

On September 16th 1977 Maria Callas suffered a heart attack and died at only 53-years old. When reading the final chapter of “The Callas Imprint” one may feel they have lost a most beloved friend. After treading the rough waters of her slowly failing health and vocal issues throughout all the 500-plus pages, any reader might feel the need to take a moment of silence. And this is how Lambton uses her voice best – to permeate the time and space of one’s very existence, to penetrate to the heart of all that makes this life human.

After traversing the catalytic and impulsively misguided abuse of her lovers-turned-leeches, and the fans that decided to turn on her when she needed them to understand her the most, it is no wonder Callas’ heart could not take on any more feelings to process. Maria Callas, in the light of Sophia Lambton’s gaze, lived because she decided to live, and breathed all of her life force into her art. There was no amount of energy wasted between publicly being the “diva” of her age and in her own, private world, where she dwelled liberated by the will of her choices and owned by no-one other than herself. 

“The Callas Imprint” is a revelation: a book worthy of anyone who is interested in learning more about how to live, and live as freely as they will their life to be.