Burberry’s chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci unveils the brand’s latest collaboration with renowned performance artist Marina Abramovic on the costume design for her new opera project ‘7 Deaths of Maria Callas’. Since its conception thirty years ago, the opera finally debuted last night at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, Germany. The production sees Abramovic herself starring as the American-born Greek soprano Maria Callas in a sumptuous cinematic tribute to her life-long hero.
From Purcell’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’ to Wagner’s ‘Tristan and Isolde,’ operatic heroines have long been depicted dying on stage for the sake of love. The idea of dying for love, it seems, has been a perennial trope since the art form’s beginnings. Despite its seemingly inexhaustible incarnations, in these modern times, such ostentatious displays of devotion run the risk of being dismissed as mere clichés. Abramovic’s rendition, however, transcends the confines of a conventional love story through entwining the tragic fates of Callas’ characters with the singer’s own life story.
“Like so many of the characters she created on stage, she died for love,” Abramovic writes. The production consists of seven legendary arias drawn from iconic scenes in Callas’ career. Through this interplay of narratives, Abramovic illuminates what she views as the shared theme running through both their lives: an immense capacity for love.
Her decision to partner with Burberry reflects just that. Speaking about her long-time friend and collaborator, Abramovic states: “When the opportunity for this project started to become real, there was no other team I wanted to work with: Riccardo had to make all the costumes because we are love, he is fashion and I am art, two worlds that cross over in a creative dialogue of love, respect and freedom.” She continues, “To die from a broken heart is the thread which draws together each opera in a project which is centred around love and its forms, as much as my relationship with Riccardo.”
Maria Trivella who was Callas’ teacher at the Greek National Conservatoire where she trained still recalls her remarkable voice nearly two decades later as “warm, lyrical, intense.” She says, “It swirled and flared like a flame and filled the air with melodious reverberations like a carillon.” Tisci’s creations capture the essence of this spirit by treading the line between bold and ethereal. The costumes evolve with the characters’ journey in each scene, charting the euphoria of Callas’ halcyon days to her eventual martyrdom for love.
The first look sees Abramovic outfitted in a delicate silk-satin gown, shrouded in a gossamer-thin veil, trimmed with intricate floral motifs fashioned from encrusted Chantilly lace and embroidery pins. His other designs include an eye-catching red crepe Toledo jacket adorned with crystal embroidery, a diaphanous drop-waist gown draped with hand-linked teardrop crystals and for the finale, a brilliant gold sequinned high-neck gown accentuated with dramatic sleeve panels which envisions Callas at the peak of her fame —scintillating, but almost disconcertingly so.
In that regard, the costumes are disarming in their vivacity, as the audience becomes for a moment, blissfully ignorant of the ending which awaits them. Just as love never seems more delightful than when it is about to be lost, Callas never seems more beautiful than just before her demise.
“The subject is one of love in all its forms, from the light to the dark,” Tisci explains. His designs can then be seen as a memento mori of sorts, one which unabashedly embraces the primordial nature of love, in all its contradictions.
‘7 Deaths of Maria Callas’ will also be live-streamed on staatsoper.tv on 6 September 2020 at 12.30am (Singapore time) and will be available to watch on demand for 30 days from 7 September 2020.
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