Intersections Study Day

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11:55–13:05 Session 3. Embodiments

João Pedro Cachopo, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa,

The diva is present: Some thoughts on Marina Abramović’s 7 Deaths of Maria Callas

Almost half a century after the death of Maria Callas, the myth of the singer still persists. In fact, looking at recent years, it seems to intensify. Books, documentaries, exhibitions, shows, and tributes continue to proliferate. Furthermore, unprecedented projects emerge, in which the use of new media takes the lead: an immersive exhibition, a concert with a hologram, a posthumous duet between Callas and Gheorghiu. It is against this background that I address 7 Deaths of Maria Callas (2020), an operatic project by Marina Abramović, with music by Marko Nikodijević and video by Nabil Elderkin.

Crossing different arts and media, the show re-enacts, between the stage and the screen, the deaths of seven female characters from seven famous operas: Verdi’s La traviata, Puccini’s Tosca, Verdi’s Otello, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Bizet’s Carmen, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermmor, and Bellini’s Norma. A different singer performs each of these arias live while a video is projected on a giant screen at the back of the stage. There are therefore seven videos in which Marina, either alone or co-starring with Willem Dafoe, embodies seven deaths under the sign of ‘consumption’, ‘jumping’, ‘strangulation’, ‘Hara-Kiri’, ‘knifing’, ‘madness’, and ‘burning’. An eighth death is added to these seven: the death of Maria Callas. It is in this eighth scene, which reproduces the circumstances of the soprano’s death in her Parisian apartment in 1977, that Marina Abramović, embodying Callas, intervenes as a performance artist on stage.

My purpose in this paper is twofold. On the one hand, I aim to discuss some of the themes evoked by this project: the tensions between the performing arts and performance art; the interpretative challenges of intermediality and intertextuality; the trope of the female protagonist’s death in opera. On the other hand, taking as a starting point the emphasis on the artist’s presence on stage—a crucial aspect of Abramović’s work—I seek to show how 7 Deaths of Maria Callas embodies and manifests the paradox that runs through many of the recent projects around Maria Callas: on the one hand, the fascination with the multiplication of images, doubles, copies, avatars, media; on the other hand, the obsession with the values of originality: authenticity, liveness, and presence.

João Pedro Cachopo teaches Philosophy of Music at the NOVA University Lisbon. He is a member of the CESEM – Centre for the Study of the Sociology and Aesthetics of Music, where he coordinates the Critical Theory and Communication Research Group. His interests include the intersection of aesthetics, politics, and technology, the interplay between the arts, and issues of performance, dramaturgy, and remediation. He is the author of The Digital Pandemic: Imagination in Times of Isolation (Bloomsbury, 2022), originally published as A Torção dos Sentidos: Pandemia e Remediação Digital in Portugal (Documenta, 2020) and Brazil (Elefante 2021), and the co-editor of Rancière and Music (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), among other books. His work has also appeared in international journals such as The Opera QuarterlyNew German CritiqueTelos: Critical Theory of the ContemporaryCritique and Sound Stage Screen, as well as in collective volumes, such as The Routledge Companion of Music and Modern Literature.


The Didone Project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC)
under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme,
Grant agreement No. 788986.