Seven Deaths of Maria Callas at the London Coliseum
Marina Abramović, who is considered one of the most prominent names in conceptual and performance art, has experimented for decades with the idea of danger, discomfort and endurance with regard to the human body. Her work gained quite a following, which means that many are flocking to see her opera project Seven Deaths of Maria Callas.
The show begins with Abramović, who plays Callas, lying motionless on a bed. A nurse enters and begins to sing an aria once performed by the titular opera legend, while a video in the background shows Abramović and a male figure (played by Willem Dafoe) act out a death scene. As the nurse exits, another enters, and this format is repeated seven times in total: a different singer stands dressed as a nurse performing an aria (either by Bellini, Donizetti, Puccini, Bizet or Verdi), and a video depicts the woman and man march towards their deaths in various situations (jumping off a building, being strangulated by snakes, walking into a fire, and so on). In between songs, a recording of Abramovic’s voice expresses a thought that seems to emerge from the protagonist’s mind. After one hour of lying still, the final scene sees Callas get up, walk around, break a vase and go off, only to re-emerge, after the nurses have cleaned the room, dressed in a dazzling gold dress, while an audio of Maria Callas singing Casta Diva plays.
Abramović stated that she feels a connection with Callas and this is her tribute to her. Unfortunately, the show does not give any insight into the opera singer’s life or career, and her name and figure seem to be used rather superficially. Leaving aside Abramović’s prior body of work, which is what is drawing audiences in, the show in and of itself comes across as a set of separate elements that don’t quite gel together and don’t communicate very much since they’re removed from any context. The videos are more aesthetic than dramatic and distract from the songs, which are performed with great flair but lack a solid thread uniting them.
This one-woman show is in many ways self-indulgent. When the whole focus is on Abramović and she is not singing herself and lies motionless throughout (save for the last scene), one can’t help feel that linking her name to that of Callas and taking centre-stage as a protagonist is somewhat pretentious.
Seven Deaths of Maria Callas is at the London Coliseum from 8th until 11th November 2023. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.