Naples, San Carlo Theater – 7 Dead of Maria Callas – Connected to the Opera

One hundred minutes to enter the play of mirrors of an art suspended and broken seven times between life and death, between the corporality of the body and the folds of a soul, between stage roles and real existence. Losing in the search for the eternal in love, winning with the eternal uniqueness of a voice. And the casting out, in the magical key of the number seven, the return of another but unique fear.
In a word, opera performance: the absolute and extreme, conceived around the legendary Maria Callas, then drawn for directing and sets and interpreted by a world icon of body and conceptual art, the Serbian Marina Abramoviccritically acclaimed protagonist in the national premiere at the San Carlo Theater of Naples with its powerful multimedia show, with a high mimetic vocation, 7 deaths of Maria Callas† Therefore, within a multi-focus and multi-level dramaturgy between voice-over and music in the orchestra, internal female choir, digital and electronic means, a large screen in the background of the stage, a gesture installation on the platform and seven singing cameos in gala collection, the deaths of seven of its various characters concluded by the personal epilogue (the eighth death) early in the autumn morning, in September 1977, in reality from a heart attack, but here simply leaving the scene from the luxurious bedroom of his Paris apartment on the third floor of number 36 on Avenue George Mandel, a stone’s throw from the Trocadéro.

In the premises of the show, there is first of all Abramović’s shock to the Callasian myth, as explained in the press conference in the same rough English with which he recites the words and concepts of the libretto written by four hands with Petter Skavlan: «I was only 14 when I listened to it on the radio in my grandmother’s kitchen. I felt an immense emotion, so much so that I began to cry, until the speaker said Callas’s name. The rest is history.” There are what she calls coincidences (“Many similarities – she added – between her and my life. We were both born under the sign of Sagittarius, we had strong mothers, who stole our youth a bit and pushed us to our careers, unhappy loves, the identity duo of life and art, the contradiction between public and private. And then his great feeling for Onassis, his great love, until the death of heartbreak. In my life something analogous happened (with Ulay and Paolo Canevari) , my work saved me. Physically then – with the long raven hair and profile – we are so different”).

In addition to the desire that the artist has cherished for more than twenty years, there is of course the major project dating back to 2014, born in an international co-production between the theaters of Monaco, Berlin, Paris, Athens, Barcelona and, in Italy , San Carlo and Maggio Fiorentino (skipped to follow), originally intended to involve seven major film directors (including Roman Polanski, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, Marco Brambilla, Giada Colagrande, Yorgos Lanthimos) from time to time, creators of the various video episodes corresponding to to death by Violetta, Tosca, Desdemona, Butterfly, Carmen, Lucia and Norma. A project repeatedly postponed for budgetary and pandemic reasons, then reformulated and entrusted, after the defection of Polanski and Iñárritu, to a single team led by Nabil Elderkin (video), Marco Brambilla (video interludes), Urs Schönebaum (lighting designer )
Luka Kozlovackic (sound designer), da Benedict Stampflic (dramaturgy), a Marko Nikodijevic for unpublished music, a Riccardo Tiscia for the appropriate costumes. While, on the stage of the Orchestra and Women’s Choir (prepared by Joseph Louis Basso) of the Neapolitan Opera, there was Yoel Gamzou

Its undisputed strength, albeit only virtually in the surreal art videos, is the presence of the award-winning Willem Dafoerare impact actor (among others husband of the initially involved Giada Colagrande) for frontier and antagonist roles (from platoon a Grand Hotel BudapestMurder on the Orient Express branagh version, Van Gogh to name a few in an immense and magnificent filmography), here in fact the perfect executioner for the seven operatic heroines, as well as a metaphor for the Greek magnate Aristotle Onassis who would have actually broken Callas’s heart.
So what we see in the aforementioned hundred minutes (to be exact, 90, like fear, plus 7 a mystic-ritual synthesis of death and rebirth, you could say) launched as a world premiere at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in September 2020 and now in the Italian premiere in Naples with five shows in three days?
Certainly for a production of great art, more in line with the experiments on the border between the languages ​​of a Naples Theater Festival as a package as a whole less suitable for a Lyric with historical roots of a different rank, on whose plate it would be the music along with the song must nevertheless weigh more and better compared to the laudable inventions and interactions with artists of international caliber. And let’s not say that otherwise young people would not approach opera (in the interview, Abramović states that “the production is also directed by the desire to renew the operatic audience, reach the younger generations and revive the genre”). sector is well aware that operatic singing is by no means an art in agony, nor is the big screen or anthological solution necessary to facilitate a deconstructed use that skips the bank of sealing and qualitative rendering.

This means in the results: the dramaturgical design idea is valid, relevant both the conceptual meaning of the texts (in English with Italian surtitles) and the sign of art on video, both in the powerful atmospheric-telluric interludes and in accordance with the seven dead: “Consumption” for tuberculosis that extinguishes the very young Violetta in the song of farewell to the past Traviata“Jumping” into the slow flight of an industrial skyscraper of the Floria Tosca in the “Vissi d’Arte”, until a sedan crashed and landed on it, “strangling” with a double twist of two hoses during Desdemona’s Ave Maria ofOtello by Verdi, “hara-kiri” for the suicide by contamination on a planet of day after, “Knifling” for the violent stab received by a Carmen smashing the habanera, dressed like a toreador and like a bull strung in the laces of a rope, “madness” for the madness in the mirror that cuts and damn Lucia in the famous scene and aria from the madness, “burning” in front of the pyre in which Norma, singing “Casta diva”, burns with a Pollione-Dafoe dressed and made up in her image and likeness. All this with the Abramović motionless for a long time, so in the style of his performances, in a bed in dim light, as if he wanted to dream or relive his roles. Free from a black curtain, she follows the epilogue or the second part in her room, with the details faithfully reproduced, the list of names dear to her and the hypothesis of the minutes before the heart attack, leafing through the photos, opening the window for breathe the air of Paris and throw a vase of flowers (the fourth, after Lucia) on the floor. Then the exit of the scene and the arrival of seven maids (the same singers) to multiply that one, fundamental figure for her, that was Bruna Lupoli, ready to veil the furniture in black. Finally, the author’s release in a golden dress and pose like a Madonna in the foreground notes – but at least with the voice of the original recording – of the prayer emblem “Casta diva”, elaborated from the hole and dismantled in the dark .

In a weak position, unfortunately, the tracking shot of the singing pieces is often crushed at the feet and substantially shadowed by what is projected with better sturdiness, breadth and power by the micro-stories on the big screen. Retouched with respect to the lineup that was originally to usher in the 2020/21 season, the remarkably assorted vocal cast has practically only seen the ever-excellent Lucia Asthon shine. Jessica Pratt (the only one indeed warmly applauded in the open scene) for sticking to the roll, intonation, skill of the wind, care of yarns and virtuosity in the acute (except for the first jump at the opening of the scene) and too acute. Callasian-esque style and timbre should also be recognized in the standard of Roberta Mantegna while scattered by shadows instead of lights the evidences of Selene Zanettic Violetta’s does not yet show off the firm and rising fiber of Valeria Sepec for a “Vissi d’Arte” undermined by the covered emission and by the often broken wind. Even the Ave Maria of good, but here aseptically correct but not exciting? Nino Machaidzethe issue of the Cio-Cio-San of the no less famous is overly closed and lively Kristine Opolais (on his sancarlian debut) and briefly interrupted the Carmen dell’altrave appreciated Annalisa Stroppa. This is understandable because it is nearly impossible to take the scope of top-level sorties of a role in solutions out of context like this. All the more if the direction of Yoel Gamzou it tends not to guarantee the credibility of the vocals, fading into often lackluster attacks, effective tempo breaks and too light sustain. His contribution in the atmospheric panels was better – the orchestra seemed to us rather unhinged compared to the carefully managed internal choir – between melodic-harmonic connections and cloud order between the arias and the performance of Marina / Maria in the epilogue, despite the banality of the thematic bridges and the motivic ideas of the norma scattered here and there in the final.

Finally, as promised at the press conference, finding that every artist “has a responsibility to participate actively in what is happening in the world and to take a stand”, so much so that just six hours after the outbreak of the war these days , she told herself ” the first artist to launch a message of complete proximity to Ukraine “, she asked the public to have a thought for the country under attack with a few moments of concentration with her eyes closed.
At the end, audience standing and applauding with particular enthusiasm for Jessica Pratt and Marina Abramović, debuts in San Carlo, but already in Naples in 1974 for her most dangerous and extreme performance.

San Carlo Theater – Season 2021/22
7 DIE OF MARIA CALLAS
booklet by Marina Abramovic e Petter Skavlan
Music by Marko Nikodijevic
Scenes and arias from operas by Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Donizetti, Bellini
Concept, direction and scenes Marina Abramovic

artist Marina Abramovic
Interpreter on video William Dafoe
carmen Annalisa Stroppa
Floria Tosca Valeria Sepec
Desdemona Nino Machaidze
Lucia Ashton Jessica Pratt
norma Roberta Mantegna
Cio-Cio-San Kristine Opolais
Violetta Valery Selene Zanettic

Orchestra and women’s choir of the Teatro di San Carlo
Director Yoel Gamzou
choirmaster Joseph Louis Basso
costumes Riccardo Tiscia
lighting designer Urs Schonebaum
Libretto Petter Skavlan
Video Nabil Elderkin
sound designer Luka Kozlovackic
Co-production Bayerische Staatsoper, Teatro di San Carlo,
Deutsche Oper Berlin, Greek National Opera Athens,
Liceu de Barcelona, ​​​​​​National Opera of Paris

Naples, May 13, 2022, 5 p.m.

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