Monica Bellucci Takes on Her First Stage Show as Opera Legend Maria Callas: 'Beauty Deserves Risks'
Italian screen siren Monica Bellucci makes the leap to the stage by embodying 20th-century soprano Maria Callas.
In Letters and Memoirs, directed by Tom Volf and playing in New York at the Beacon Theater on Friday, Jan. 27, Bellucci, 58, channels the Greek opera legend as she recites Callas' previously unpublished letters and writings to tell the singer's full story in her own words.
The one-woman show began its run with Bellucci at Paris' Théâtre Marigny in 2019 and has continued to perform around the world, including in Athens, Rome, Milan and at Her Majesty Theater in London. It played in Los Angeles before arriving in New York for a single-night engagement.
As Bellucci tells PEOPLE, she never expected the show to become an international phenomenon.
"It was crazy, and we never expected to come to New York," she marvels. "And it's such a sign that we came to New York because Callas was born in New York in 1923, and we finish the tour in 2023, 100 years later when she was born. So it is a beautiful sign for me."
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How did you come to participate in this project?
Tom had the idea to make the show because the letters were so beautiful, and he asked me to be part of this project. I was scared, of course. First time on stage! I couldn't say no because when I read the letters and the memoirs, everything was full of emotion and vulnerability, and it's like if I could touch her soul.
What moved me into this project is Maria Callas' duality. The diva, the divina, the dona, immense talent. At the same time, the woman with a simple heart, the one who died of sadness, of a broken heart.
I think she's still inspiring today because she was a fighter. She fought for freedom, she wanted to divorce in a moment where divorce was forbidden in Italy, and also she had the courage to follow her heart. And she was also unpredictable because she sacrificed all her childhood and youth for her work. When people said that she had a tragic life, maybe we should say that she led a brave life.
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What was your impression of her when you first read her letters and memoirs?
I felt that I could connect to her because there is always a duality between the person and the image.
There is always a duality between how we live to survive and how we feel. And for artists, it's even worse. I think it's so dangerous when the person and the image are the same. When you play, you give a part of yourself, but it's not all yourself. It's the representation of life, but it's not the life. And when it's the life, it becomes dangerous. When the image and the person are the same thing, it's very dangerous to confuse the image and the person because it's you but not all of you.
In our work, we are so exposed to the people. But a part of us is very lonely. Especially to be an actor, to be a singer, everything is artistic because even the process you have to go through to create a character, to create a role, you're very lonely when you make a decision and how to create what you do.
Then the result of that, it's the exposure in public, in front of people, connecting with others. But the moment you create, the moment you choose what to do, it's you and nobody else. I could understand this loneliness.
You talk about your craft like a true artist.
Maybe because I'm very Mediterranean. Callas also lived in Italy — she was all over. She was born in New York, she went to Greece, she became a star in Italy, then she died in Paris. So she was a foreigner wherever she was.
Do you feel like that at all?
I could connect to that. Yeah, because I come from Italy, but I don't live there. I have a place there, but I go there once in a while. My family's in Italy, I go often, but I don't live there. I live in Paris. So even though it's been a long time I'm in Paris, but still you're not French. Through my work, I have the possibility to go all over.
You're a fearless artist in your choices — from making controversial films like Irreversible to leaping into your first stage production.
And passionate. Sometimes when I think why, I don't know. Theater is a big risk.
Why take these risks?
Because beauty deserves risks. With this project, there was something so human, so poetic, that I said, "Oh my God, it's going to be a big risk, but I think it's beautiful to give this to people." And even though I was scared, when I was scared, I said, "Okay, I give love, so nothing can happen to me."
You sound like a natural born artist, but before you began acting you studied law!
Yeah, I studied law, but then I did some fashion. But my dream was acting, from when I used to be a child. My parents, when they were young and I remember they used to go to cinema. And when they would come back from the cinema, my mother, my father, they would tell me the story of the film. I was like 7, 8. It was as if was I was seeing movies I wasn't able to see yet — through them. And then when I was a teenager, I could see even two films a day. I was really always loving the world of image.
When you look back on your career, do you ever pinch yourself?
I'm very grateful. I know that I'm lucky to have the chance to work in so many countries with different directors. Because it's not just touching a film but also touching a different culture, to make a French movie, an Italian movie, an American movie. It's so incredible, and I know that I'm very lucky. But then also today I'm a grown-up woman, and I know that I'm lucky that I still have the chance to work at my age.
And now today, of course, I love it. I'm still passionate in my life about my work and everything. But now you know the real thing in life: Of course your work is important, but then it's important to have friends and family and have a full life with humanity around you.