Marina Abramović has been obsessed with the drama-filled, scandalous life of Maria Callas, the American-born Greek soprano, for many decades - so obsessed that an entire multimedia art project was to come of it.
7 Deaths of Maria Callas, a music-theater work by the famed Serbian performance artist, combines elements of video and performance art by putting together seven famous arias associated with the singer. Accompanying it all is new music by the composer Marko Nikodijević, and starring in it is Abramović herself and actor Willem Dafoe.
The project finally had its world premiere at the historic Bavarian State Opera on September 1, and will also be available for free streaming on several platform, including the opera house's website, beginning September 5.
To focus on the female body, primarily her own, as a source of power and pain does not come strange to Marina Abramović, whose groundbreaking artworks earned her the nickname "the grandmother of performance art". Maria Callas, on the other hand, became one of world's most known voices in the mid-20th century, but the events of her life almost attracted the same amount of attention.
In 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, Abramović recreates seven iconic death scenes from Callas' most important roles, most notably: “Addio del passato” from La Traviata, “Vissi d’arte” from Tosca, “Ave Maria” from Otello, “Un bel dì vedremo” from Madama Butterfly, “Habanera” from Carmen, “Il dolce suono” from Lucia di Lammermoor and “Casta Diva” from Norma.
Each of them is accompanied by a short film projected on stage, and in each of them Abramović is killed by Willem Dafoe, who is also her lover. The work is meant to illuminate both the tragic fates of Callas' characters on stage as well as her own story. Throughout the opera-performance, Abramović's signature tools such as knives, snakes, fire and clouds, can be seen.
In her memoir Walk Through Walls, Abramović comments:
For 25 years I have wanted to create a work dedicated to the life and art of Maria Callas. I had read all the biographies about her, listened to her extraordinary voice and watched film recordings of her performances. Like me she was a Sagittarius, I was always fascinated by her personality, her life - and her death. Like so many of the characters she portrayed on stage, she died for love. She died of a broken heart.
Initially scheduled for April 11, the premiere of 7 Deaths of Maria Callas was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bavarian State Opera was supposed to host 3,200 people; instead, the opera was shown to 200 people scattered in space and not occupying the front rows as to enforce social distancing and ensure the safety of the orchestra. Abramović will have to self-isolate in order to be able to perform in the following four iterations in Munich.
The initial plan to have the 5-night run in Munich followed by performances in Athens, Berlin, Florence and Paris is still under question.
7 Deaths of Maria Calla is conducted by Yoel Gamzou, and was written by Marina Abramović and Petter Skavlan. The costumes were done by Riccardo Tisci for Burberry.
On September 5, 2020, The Bavarian State Opera will broadcast the performance of 7 Deaths of Maria Callas live and free of charge on Staatsoper.TV, BR-Klassik Concert, and Arte Concert. The presentation will also be available as video-on-demand from 7 September at noon to 7 October at 11.59am, available with German, English, French, Spanish, Italian and Polish subtitles.
An opera production conceived by the legendary performance artist Marina Abramovic (born 1946), 7 Deaths of Maria Callas is a continuation of the artist's lifelong meditation on the female body. Here Abramovic turns her focus to renowned opera singer Maria Callas, whose stunning soprano voice captivated audiences around the world in the mid-20th century. Though she remains one of opera’s greatest singers, Callas’ life was beset by struggle and scandal. Today, the opera diva is remembered for having been a figure of both talent and tragedy.
Featured image: Marina Abramović in 7 Deaths of Maria Callas. Courtesy the Marina Abramović Institute.