One rainy November day, twelve years or so ago, I visited the great Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise, the resting place of so many famous musicians, including Bizet and Jim Morrison. Some of the occupants have moved house, Bellini and Rossini for example both preferring the Italian lifestyle.
It’s a vast maze of memorials, and at the top of the hill there are steps leading down into a subterranean chamber where many urns with cremated ashes are kept. I ventured into this place in search of Maria Callas – about whom I knew and still know very little – not knowing then that her ashes had been stolen, recovered and scattered into the Aegean back in 1979 (although I do think that’s a more appropriate resting place for her).
The atmosphere in that dimly lit chamber is so thick with floral scents that it is almost intoxicating, and it was there, standing before the memorial of Maria Callas that I had the most profound spiritual experience of my life.
In my mind, I could hear, with astonishing clarity, Maria Callas singing Casta Diva (from Bellini’s Norma). This achingly beautiful aria always feels profoundly sad to me, and I love the recordings with the very distinctive voice of Maria Callas. Overcome with sudden grief for the loss of such a beautiful voice, I fled that dark chamber with tears in my eyes, and for a long time sat outside weeping with that song echoing in my thoughts.