The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas and Joyce DiDonato Live in Concert Reviews: Divas Past and Present – Wall Street Journal

Posted in Skin Art on Sep 15, 2020

The premiere of Marina Abramovis The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, which opened the Bavarian State Operas season this month, was live-streamed on Sept. 5 and is available free of charge until Oct. 7. Though in development for several years, it seems made for this pandemic momentit runs an intermission-free 90 minutes, and only one person sings onstage at a time. Rather than an opera, its an appropriation and an appreciation of the form. The Serbian-born performance artist inserts herself into the stories of some operatic iconsthe soprano Maria Callas and seven famous heroinesand 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. Abramovi represents all of these women but chiefly herself.

In the diverting first hour, Ms. Abramovi, as Callas, lies motionless in a bed at stage right, presumably dreaming her stage deaths as she awaits her own. (Marko Nikodijevi composed the spacey interstitial music.) 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. Abramovi, giving emotional context, and accompanied by a film, directed by Nabil Elderkin and starring Ms. Abramovi 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. In the Traviata sequence, Ms. Abramovi 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 lam gown; he and Ms. Abramovi, 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.

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The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas and Joyce DiDonato Live in Concert Reviews: Divas Past and Present - Wall Street Journal

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