Meeting Italian superstar Monica Bellucci in midtown Manhattan turns out to be a pretty refreshing afternoon outing.
Exuding the sort of innate confidence and beauty that the 58-year-old actress and model has been known for since first catapulting on the public scene, Bellucci reminds this particular writer that the world outside of New York is one ruled by a sense of calm and appreciation for the small things in life. Sure, I'm biased: I was born and raised in Italy and Bellucci has always been the embodiment of the country's most reliable strengths: tranquility, love of life and intrinsic charm.
Alas, Bellucci's Mediterranean flair might be exactly what also landed her the part of Greek opera legend Maria Callas in the one-woman show Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs by Tom Volf, set to play at the Beacon Theatre for one night only on Friday, January 27, 2023.
"I asked Tom why he chose me," Bellucci says calmly. "Perhaps, it was because Callas was born in New York, then traveled to Greece, became a huge star in Italy and died in Paris. Somehow, she was a foreigner wherever she was and I can connect to that."
Hearing the actress speak about her latest role makes it clear that, in addition to similarly intense traveling schedules dictated by work, there is more to Callas that resonated with Bellucci.
"What really moved me was Maria's duality," Bellucci explains. "This incredible diva was a woman with talent but, at the same time, a woman with a simple heart, who died of a broken heart."
The result of this intense connection between the two female powerhouses is a 75-minute show performed with a live orchestra inspired by the until-now unpublished letters written by Callas, who passed away at the age of 53 in 1977, that touch upon her childhood in New York, her ascendancy to the top of Italy's opera circles, her love affair with Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and all the drama that comes with such a full life.
Aptly described by The Guardian as "a case of one diva paying homage to another" following its run at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, the show has also taken over the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens, the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome and Teatro Manzoni in Milan.
"I think it is such a beautiful coincidence that the tour is going to end in New York in 2023 because Callas was born here in 1923, so it's been exactly 100 years," says Bellucci.
Speaking of New York, when asked about her own connection to the city, Bellucci is quick to note that, despite having lived by the Hudson River in downtown Manhattan for six months decades ago, the town’s energy still feels thrilling.
"For Europeans, New York is like Disneyland," the actress says with a smile. "These incredible buildings and the lights, it's a city with such a strong energy but when you come from Europe you need a few days to get adjusted to it all because it's a lot."
Interestingly enough, though, on this most recent trip, Bellucci noticed New Yorkers being a bit "calmer" than she remembers. "Maybe it's because we've all touched danger with COVID-19 but it seems like people here appreciate the simple things more, now," she says. "The city is always in a hurry, of course, but I feel a calmer energy than usual, something more subdued."
All that she means, it seems, is that New York now appears to be a bit more … European, perhaps?
"We have a calmer way to live in Europe," she says. "At the same time, what is great about America is that there is more positivity to life. We are more dramatic there, which is also part of our beauty because we come from an older culture, we are the roots of society. In the United States, people don't have this sort of attachment so maybe people are more free to express themselves—which is something we can learn from Americans."
Buy tickets to Maria Callas: Letters and Memoirs here.