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The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas’

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Maria Callas. (Photo: Eurokinissi, file)

NEW YORK – The life of renowned Greek soprano Maria Callas – known as ‘La Divina’ before her untimely death in 1977 – continues to fascinate and inspire both musicians and writers. The Wall Street Journal recently reviewed Marina Abramovic’s The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, which opened the Bavarian State Opera’s season. It was live-streamed on September 5 and is available free of charge until October 7. “Though in development for several years, it seems made for this pandemic moment – it runs an intermission-free 90 minutes, and only one person sings onstage at a time. Rather than an opera, it’s an appropriation and an appreciation of the form. The Serbian-born performance artist inserts herself into the stories of some operatic icons – the soprano Maria Callas and seven famous heroines – and fashions a multilayered meditation on dying for love. Opera fans steeped in the tragedies of Violetta, Cio-Cio-San and their ilk, as well as the doomed Callas-Aristotle Onassis romance, will get the references as Ms. Abramovic represents all of these women but chiefly herself,” Heidi Waleson wrote.

“Conductor Yoel Gamzou ably welded the arias and Mr. Nikodijevic’s music into a coherent whole … In the diverting first hour, Ms. Abramovic, as Callas, lies motionless in a bed at stage right, presumably dreaming her stage deaths as she awaits her own … One by one, seven sopranos enter and sing famous Callas arias, starting with Addio del passato (La Traviata) and concluding with Casta diva (‘Norma). Each is introduced by a voiceover, spoken in English by Ms. Abramovic, giving emotional context, and accompanied by a film, directed by Nabil Elderkin and starring Ms. Abramovic and the actor Willem Dafoe as the lover who causes her death. The arias are eloquently sung, but the giant film images seize our focus and, together with the introductory narrations, make the deaths explicit,” the article continues.

“In the Traviata sequence,” Waleson wrote “Ms. Abramovic expires in bed; the other six grow progressively more violent and grotesque. In Ave Maria (Otello), she is strangled by a giant snake; in “Un bel di” (Madama Butterfly), she rips off her hazmat suit in a poisoned landscape and breathes in the air; for “Il dolce suono,” from the mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor, she slashes herself with broken glass. Puzzlingly, in Casta diva, it is Mr. Dafoe who wears the signature Callas makeup (skinny eyebrows, red lipstick) and a gold lamé gown; he and Ms. Abramovic, in a tuxedo, stagger into a fire, their facial expressions simultaneously agonized and ecstatic. (The narration cites bubbling and blackening skin and singed lungs.) Dying for love, it seems, is actually a lot more painful than the exquisite music of Verdi and Bellini suggests.”