The frustrating doc Maria by Callas reduces Greek-American opera diva Maria Callas to a misunderstood celebrity who devoted herself to a calling and a lover that never gave as much to her as she did to them. Director Tom Volf makes his rickety case for Callas as a tragic figure by cherry-picking quotes from a variety of her interviews and documents, focusing primarily on paparazzi footage, private letters and Callas' unpublished memoirs. Clips of Callas singing some of her most famous arias are purported to speak to her disappointment with bad reviews and persistent gossip about her affair with shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. Volf claims in the film's press notes that the melancholic "Vissi d'arte" aria from La Traviata, its refrain translating to "I lived for art, I lived for love," actually "summarizes [Callas'] whole existence." Volf unconvincingly presents Callas -- a commanding performer who also famously had a Patti LuPone-sized ego -- as a passive martyr.
Volf supports his interpretation of Callas' personality with sound bites from her understandably guarded televised appearances, all of which devolve into terse discussions about her years-long romance with Onassis. In these clips, Callas talks about how she had to choose between a career as a singer and a more traditional life as a wife (she repeatedly says that she could not successfully be both). Volf's refusal to address key choices that Callas made to shape her own career and fight her insecurities suggests that he'd prefer to imagine Callas as a victim of fate -- and bronchitis, fame, Onassis, etc. -- instead of a strong-willed, but human prima donna.