NEW YORK – Maria Callas has been an inspiration to countless artists and has been the subject of many documentaries and films over the years, but fans will have to wait to see the premiere of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic’s 7 Deaths of Maria Callas which was postponed due to the concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the New York Times reported on April 9.
The music-theater work is based on the tragic myths surround the life of the American-born Greek soprano and is the culmination of Abramovic’s 60-year obsession with Callas, the Times reported, adding that “for the past month, Ms. Abramovic has been based in Munich,” working on the project at the Bavarian State Opera.
“Combining elements of video and performance art, the piece strings together seven famous arias associated with Callas and new music by the composer Marko Nikodijevic,” the Times reported, adding that “each of the arias is accompanied by a short film, in which Ms. Abramovic plays opposite the Hollywood actor Willem Dafoe,” and “these feature symbols that recur in Ms. Abramovic’s work — knives, snakes, fire, clouds — and by the opera’s climax, the identities of the two women have become so confused, it’s hard to know which diva it’s really about.”
The scheduled premiere on April 11 might have gone ahead as a live-stream event without an audience present in the theater, and the option was still under consideration even by late March, with Bavarian State Opera Artistic Director Nikolaus Bachler “considering removing seats from the orchestra level, so musicians could space out and perform while maintaining social distancing,” the Times reported.
A company statement on April 1, however, said that “the alternatives it had been exploring were ‘not justifiable,’ and postponed the first performance to an unspecified later date,” the Times reported.
Following the announcement, Abramovic said in an interview, “I was hoping that angels will help us. Every day more and more. But it’s impossible,” the Times reported.
Abramovic became obsessed with Callas at age 14 after “first hearing the diva sing on the radio in her grandmother’s kitchen, in what was then Yugoslavia,” the Times reported.
“I was mesmerized, and I had goose pimples, and total electricity in my body. Later on, I knew everything about her, I read eight biographies, all of them, and there was so much similarity that I see in myself. We are Sagittarius, the same; we had bad mothers. And then, also, this incredible intensity in the emotions, that she can be fragile, and strong at the same time,” Abramovic said, the Times reported.
Among the arias Abramovic selected for 7 Deaths of Maria Callas are Addio del passato from La Traviata and Casta Diva from Norma, the Times reported, adding that “she worked with the music video director Nabil Elderkin to develop the short films, which play onstage while the singers perform live,” and “last November, she flew to Los Angeles to record the films with Mr. Dafoe.”
Dafoe told the Times that “he had gotten to know Ms. Abramovic when he was acting with the Wooster Group, the experimental New York theater company,” and “in the early 2000s, Ms. Abramovic was living in a co-op in the same downtown building as the theater, and she would come to see its shows.” The friends “later collaborated on The Life and Death of Marina Abramovic, a stage work by the avant-garde director Robert Wilson,” the Times reported.
“In six of the videos, Mr. Dafoe plays Ms. Abramovic’s lover or assassin; in all of them, Ms. Abramovic dies,” the Times reported, adding that “in one, Mr. Dafoe handles a python that strangles Ms. Abramovic, to the strains of the Ave Maria Desdemona sings shortly before being throttled by the title character in Verdi’s Otello.”
Dafoe said, “I’ve known her for years, and I like being part of her work. If she wants me to kill her, well, that’s quite an honor,” the Times reported.
“Callas, whose passionate artistry helped resuscitate the early-19th-century bel canto repertoire that had largely vanished by the mid-20th century, had no shortage of drama in her own life,” the Times reported, adding that “she had tempestuous relationships with impresarios, audiences and the press; lost weight precipitously; and, more gradually, lost her superbly sensitive voice.”
Of Aristotle Onassis, the Times noted that “the two met while Callas was married to the Italian businessman Giovanni Battista Meneghini, and began a relationship, which turned into a much-publicized love triangle with Jacqueline Kennedy (later Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis).”
“After Onassis died in 1975, Callas became a recluse in her Paris apartment, where she died of heart failure in 1977, just 53,” the Times reported.
Abramovic told the Times, “She didn’t want to live anymore. She actually died for love,” adding that, “and I almost died for love, so I understand what it means.”
“Abramovic said that when her Italian husband, the artist Paolo Canevari, walked out on her about a decade ago, she was distraught,” the Times reported, adding that “working, was the only thing that saved her.”
Abramovic told the Times, “But Callas gave up even her work, and that’s the big difference between her and me. I could not give up my work.”