There was some life in this death. BASE Hologram and director Stephen Wadsworth resurrected soprano Maria Callas 42 years after her death on September 7 at the Lyric Opera. The 90-minute concert of her larger-than-life image was superimposed in front of a real orchestra, energetically conducted by Eimear Noone, wearing flouncy black tails and a long blond ponytail.
The joy of getting the opportunity to witness the powerful, lyrical bel canto brunette was tempered by a somewhat funereal format. The stage was framed with two large funeral parlor-style flower arrangements, and the background cyclorama continuously churned with three abstract light gobos, ostensibly to cover any hologram projection spill, but were also evocative of Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters controlling the hallucination.
Which made sense with the program—two arias were from Verdi’s Macbeth, one was from Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet, and one from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet, all which proffer a body count as well as echo the supernatural and post-life nature of the hologram itself.
La Divina wore a white, sleeveless gown, and she would exit on occasion, her heels ominously clicking, to return with long wraps, one red and one white, wafting with the breezes of decades past. She also read and tore letters pulled from her bust, and threw playing cards above her head, which hovered in the air before disappearing into the ether.
She often crossed her arms over her chest, opening them at opportune times to connect with the audience and her fellow musicians, strange yet remarkable from a two-dimensional projection. She also held for applause, which was as enthusiastic in this timeline as presumably it was when the concert was originally filmed. The sound quality was tinny, but it was an opportunity to witness her trills and phrasing, vibrato and legato, and, most notably, her softer interpretations.
She deftly and delicately delivered Catalani’s “Ebben, ne andro lontana,” “Well then, I’ll go far away” (she commits suicide via avalanche), the linchpin of 1981’s cult opera classic movie Diva.
She also sang from The Thieving Magpie and Carmen, and added two encores from Tosca and Norma, before the projection technology became glitchy—she jumped and faded—and the curtain abruptly closed.
The thrill of this technology also evokes questions: does music live in the ears or the eyes? What is lost or found when Persephone ventures out of the Underworld? Perhaps Victor Frankenstein can share what happens when humans attempt to re-animate a life.
Callas’ label Warner Classics has recently released Callas: Live, Callas: Remastered and Callas in Concert. They’ve also launched a Callas website.