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7 Deaths of Maria Callas at ENO

7 Deaths of Maria Callas may not be opera but its elaborate 90-minute ritual is both funerary offering and personal exorcism.

The performance artist Marina Abramović was 16 when, in the early 1960s, she first heard Callas on the radio. She became obsessed; as she said in an interview with the New York Times, “I read eight biographies… and there was so much similarity that I see in myself. We are Sagittarius, the same; we had bad mothers.”

Those fairly slender connections lie behind AbramovA‡’s performance piece 7 Deaths of Maria Callas, which has travelled the world since its Munich premiere in 2020.

It now arrives in London, coinciding with the Abramović retrospective at the Royal Academy. The London performances are mounted by English National Opera, but 7 Deaths is only tangentially opera. Abramović’s set recreates the room in which Callas died; to one side of the stage, Abramović “plays” Callas, ostensibly asleep in bed. One by one, seven singers enter to deliver, without acting but with maximum feeling, an aria closely associated with Callas: hits from Madam Butterfly, La Traviata, Lucia di Lammermoor, and so on. Each is accompanied by the full ENO orchestra, conducted by Yoel Gamzou.

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