Callas.jpg
Portrait by: Henry Koemer (1915-1991), Oil on canvas, 1956, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Time magazine

More than any other singer in the years following World War II, Maria Callas dominated opera. Her fiery temperament and riveting stage personality qualified her as the era's reigning prima donna, and her musicianship wrought a revolution in the operatic repertory. Among other things, she took the neglected bel canto works of Bellini and Donizetti and, through the magnetism of her voice and dramatic ability, revived an entire performance style. When Callas made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1956 in Norma , it was said that she arrived like "a stormy throwback to another century," a larger-than-life figure in a world grown accustomed to lesser talents and smaller egos. Asked once if she considered herself temperamental, she answered, "I will always be difficult as necessary to achieve the best."

Commissioned for the cover of Time magazine, this portrait by Henry Koemer was derived from sittings with Callas at her home in Milan, Italy. The artist was much taken with his subject's regal beauty. But she proved an impatient sitter and, in a tantrum, at one point drove him from her presence. Nevertheless, Callas professed mush pleasure with the final result.