Presentation letter of Nina Foresti
(Maria Callas?) to the Mayor Bowes Amateur Hour contest.
By courtesy of John Ardoin.
March 13, 1935
549 W. 144 St.
Major Edward Bowes
Chase and Sanborne Amateur Program –
Having heard of your new amateur program I am hastening my request
for an audition! No doubt, you are probably already receiving many such
requests but I am sincerely hoping that mine will be one of the first
and that I shall therefore soon receive a favorable reply.
The writer is a young
soprano who has studied music and
singing several years. Competent judges have pronounced my voice
beautiful but with all that, it is very difficult to find an opening, an
opportunity for a real test to prove exactly what I can do. Your amateur
hour I hope, may answer this need.
Eagerly awaiting your reply, I remain
c/o Foresti Very sincerely,
549 West 144 St. Anita Duval
From the notes of Divina Records
It is believed that a girl who participated at a 1935
Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio audition could have been the eleven-year
old Mary Ann Callas using the false name of Nina Foresti. The recording
made on that occasion is still controversial in that the singing voice
of the contestant does not bear any resemblance to the great soprano’s
(Foresti was given a “D” rating and the note “Faint possibility for
future”). However, the girl’s speaking voice (which can be heard during
the introductory dialogue with Major Bowes in its entirety here for the
first time on CD) is strikingly similar to Callas’. The clue to the
mystery may lie in the contestant’s tone when she describes herself as
an Italian-American who is “employed in the toy department of a large
department store.” Neither of these statements was true in Maria Callas’
case, and a slight hesitancy, discomfort and hurry to finish can clearly
be heard on this recording. A pseudonym was probably chosen to deceive
Callas’ father, who objected to his wife’s ambition regarding their
younger daughter’s career, in case he or some acquaintances were
listening to the radio. According to Nikos Petsalis-Diomidis, Mary Ann
Callas had only two music teachers in New York from 1931 to 1937 –
Signorina Sandrina, who taught Mary Ann the notes and gave her piano
lessons once a week for a few months in 1931-1932; and a neighbor from
Sweden, who gave her singing lessons without payment. Considering such
modest training, it is possible that Mary Ann learned the music she
performed in public between 1934 and 1937 mainly by listening to records
and radio programs. Since Callas always had an impeccable ear, learning
to sing “Un bel di” by imitating the singing style and timbral
characteristics heard on a recording would have posed no difficulty.
This might explain why neither Nina Foresti’s singing nor her timbre,
curiously mature-sounding for an eleven-year old girl, resemble anything
known to have been recorded by Callas from 1949 to 1977. Once merely a
hypothesis, it is now generally accepted that Nina Foresti was actually
Maria Callas, despite Callas’ denial that she ever sang under an assumed
name. (She nevertheless admitted the fact to her friend and confidante
Nadia Stancioff; the same assertion was made independently by Steven
Linakis, Callas’ cousin who knew her in her childhood days.)
(c) Milan Petkovic, 2000.