Naples, San Carlo Theater – 7 Deaths of Maria Callas – Linked to the Opera

One hundred minutes to immerse yourself in the mirror play of an art exposed and broken seven times between life and death, between the physicality of the body and the folds of a soul, between stage roles and real existence. Lose in the quest for the eternal in love, win with the eternal uniqueness of a voice. And in the magic key of the number seven, the return of driving out a different but unique fear.
in a word, opera performance: the absolute and extreme, conceived around the legendary Maria Callas and then contracted to direct and set, as well as interpreted by a world icon of body and conceptual art, the Serb Marina Abramovicacclaimed protagonist at the national premiere in San Carlo Theater from Naples with its powerful multimedia show with a high mimetic vocation, 7 deaths of Maria Callas. That is why you cross them within a multi-layered and multi-level dramaturgy between off-commentary and music in the orchestra, internal female choir, digital and electronic means, a large screen in the background of the stage, a gestural installation on the pedestal and seven singing cameos in the gala collection, the Deaths of seven of his various characters, concluded by the personal epilogue (the eighth death) on an early autumn morning in September 1977, actually of a heart attack, but here he simply exits the scene from the luxurious bedroom of his third-floor Parisian apartment at number 36 avenue George Mandel, a few steps from the Trocadéro.

In the show’s premises, there is first the shock of Abramović to the Callasian myth, as he explains in the press conference in the same harsh English with which he co-recites the words and concepts of the libretto, written by four hands Peter Skavlan: «I was only 14 when I heard it on the radio in my grandmother’s kitchen. I felt an immense emotion, so much so that I cried until the speaker said Callas’s name. The rest is history”. There are what she calls coincidences (“A lot of similarities – she added – between her life and mine. We were both born under the sign of Sagittarius, we had strong mothers who stole our childhood a little and have unhappily pushed us towards our careers Loves, the identity duo of life and art, the antithesis of public and private.And then his great feeling for Onassis, his great love, to the point of death of heartbreak.Something happened in my life. analog (with Ulay and Paolo Canevari), my work saved me. So physically – you can see the long raven hair and the profile – we are so different”).

Behind this, of course, in addition to the desire that the artist has had for over twenty years, is the magnificent project of 2014, born of 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 include from time to time seven major film directors (including Roman Polanski, Alejandro Gonzáles Iñárritu, Marco Brambilla, Giada Colagrande, Yorgos Lanthimos), the creators of the various corresponding video episodes up to the Death of Violetta, Tosca, Desdemona, Butterfly, Carmen, Lucia and Norma. A project repeatedly postponed for budget and pandemic reasons, then reformulated and, following the departures of Polanski and Iñárritu, entrusted to a single team led by Nabil Elderkin (video), Marco Brambilla (video interludes), Urs Schönebaum (lighting designer).
Luke Kozlovacki (sound designer), there Benedict Stampfli (Dramaturgy), a Marko Nikodijevic for unreleased music, a Riccardo Tisci for the right costumes. While on the podium orchestra and female choir (prepared by Joseph Louis Basso) of the Neapolitan Opera existed Yoel Gamzou.

The undisputed strength, if only virtual in the surreal art videos, is the presence of the winner Willem DafoeActor of rare clout (including the husband of Giada Colagrande, who was initially involved) for borderline and antagonist roles (from train a Large Budapest hotel, Murder on the Orient Express branagh version, Van Gogh to name just a few in an immense and magnificent filmography), here indeed is the perfect executioner for the seven operatic heroines, as well as a metaphor for the Greek magnate Aristotle Onassis, who would actually have broken Callas’ heart.
So what we experience in the mentioned one hundred minutes (to be exact, 90, like fear, plus 7, one would say, a mystical-ritual synthesis of death and rebirth, was premiered 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 less suitable for a staging of great art, more in the sense of experiments on the border between the languages ​​of a Naples theater festival as a whole package, for poetry with historical roots of a different order, on whose plate there should always be more and better music together with the song weighed against the commendable inventions and interactions with artists of international caliber. And let’s not say that young people wouldn’t approach opera otherwise (in the interview, Abramović argues that “the production is also guided by a desire to renew opera audiences, reach out to the younger generations and revitalize the genre”) are sector aware that operatic singing is certainly not an art in agony, nor does it require the big screen or the anthological solution to enable a deconstructed use that skips the bank of sealing and qualitative rendition.

As a result, this means that the dramaturgical and creative idea applies, both in the powerful atmospheric telluric interludes and in accordance with the conceptual meaning of the texts (in English with Italian surtitles) and the sign of video art seven deaths: “consumption” for tuberculosis , who obliterates the very young Violetta in the song of farewell to the past Traviata“Jump” in slow flight from a Floria Tosca industrial tower into the “Vissi d’Arte” until a limousine crashed and landed on it, “choking” with a double twist of two snakes during Desdemona’s Ave MariaOthello from Verdi, “hara-kiri” for suicide by contamination on a planet day after, “Knifing” for the violent stab received by a Carmen who intones the habanera disguised as a torero and tied like a bull in the laces of a rope, “madness” for the madness in the mirror, the Lucia in the famous Scene cuts and bleeds and aria from madness ‘burning’ for 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 Abramović, who was motionless for a long time, that is, in the style of his performances, on a bed in the twilight, as if dreaming or reliving his roles. Detached from a black curtain, the epilogue or second part follows 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, scrolling through the photos, opening the window to breathe the air of Paris and throw a vase of flowers (the fourth after Lucia) on the ground. Then the exit of the scene and the entrance of seven maids (the same singers) to multiply for them this one fundamental character, who was Bruna Lupoli, ready to cloak the establishment in black. Finally, the release of the author, dressed in gold and posing like a Madonna in the foreground – but still with the voice from the original recording – of the “Casta Diva” prayer emblem, fleshed out from the hole and dismantled in the dark.

In a weak position, unfortunately, the tracking shot of the singing pieces is often crushed in front of one’s feet and essentially in the shadow of what is projected onto the big screen with better solidity, width and strength through the micro-stories. Retouched in relation to the cast originally set to open the 2020/21 season, the remarkably assembled vocal cast has practically only seen the always excellent Lucia Asthon shine. Jessica Pratt (the only one actually given hearty applause in the open scene) for sticking to the roll, intonation, skill of the horns, care of the yarns and virtuosity at the top (except for the first jump at the beginning of the scene) and over-acute. Callasian-like style and timbre must also be recognized in the standard of Roberta Mantegna while the evidence is scattered by shadows rather than lights Selene Zanetti that of Violetta does not yet show the firm and ascending fiber of Valeria Sepe for a “Vissi d’Arte” subverted by the covert emission and often refracted winds. Also the Ave Maria of the good, but here germ-free is correct, but not exciting Nino Machaidzethe edition of Cio-Cio-San by the no less famous is excessively closed and lively Kristine Opolais (at her Sancarlian debut) and just as discontinuously appreciated the Carmen dell’altrave Annalisa Stroppa. This is understandable because it’s almost impossible to take the scope of a role’s top-level deployments in solutions so out of context. Even more so when the direction of Yoel Gamzou it does not guarantee the singing pieces any credibility and often fades into bland attacks, effective tempo breaks and light supports. Better was his contribution in the atmospheric panels – the orchestra seemed to us rather unglued compared to the carefully conducted internal choir – between melodic-harmonic connections and cloud sequence between the arias and the performance of Marina/Maria in the epilogue, despite the banality of the thematic bridges and the motivic ideas Norma scattered here and there in the finale.

In conclusion, as promised at the press conference, to state that every artist “has a responsibility to take an active part in what is happening in the world and to take a stand”, so much so that this was done just six hours after the outbreak of war in As is the case these days , she said to herself ” the first artist to spread a message of total closeness to Ukraine “, she invited the public to think about the country under attack, with some moments of concentration and closed Eyes.
In the end, the audience stood and applauded with particular enthusiasm for Jessica Pratt and Marina Abramović, who debuted in San Carlo, but already in Naples in 1974 for their most dangerous and extreme performance.

Theater San Carlo – Season 2021/22
issue of Marina Abramovic e Peter Skavlan
Music of Marko Nikodijevic
Scenes and arias from operas by Verdi, Puccini, Bizet, Donizetti, Bellini
Concept, direction and scenes Marina Abramovic

Artists Marina Abramovic
Interpreter on video William Dafoe
carmen Annalisa Stroppa
Floria Toska Valeria Sepe
Desdemona Nino Machaidze
Lucy Ashton Jessica Pratt
Norma Roberta Mantegna
Cio-Cio-San Kristine Opolais
Violetta Valery Selene Zanetti

Orchestra and female choir of the Teatro di San Carlo
director Yoel Gamzou
choirmaster Joseph Louis Basso
costumes Riccardo Tisci
lighting designer Urs Schonebaum
libretto Peter Skavlan
Video Nabil Elderkin
sound designer Luke Kozlovacki
Co-production Bavarian State Opera, Teatro di San Carlo,
German Opera Berlin, Greek National Opera Athens,
Liceu de Barcelona, ​​​​National Opera of Paris

Naples, May 13, 2022 at 5 p.m


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