A dawning realisation, a gust of wind and a raking light disturb the first scene in Marina Abramović’s new film, Seven Deaths (2021), ostensibly set in the bedroom of world-famous soprano Maria Callas who died of a heart attack in 1977, aged just 53. For the full-scale staging of the opera (currently touring from its Munich premiere to Paris, Athens and Berlin) Abramović recreated the final resting place of Callas down to every detail: “…from the paintings, the bedsheets, the Madonna in the front of the bed, even down to the sleeping pills next to her telephone and the flowers she used to have.”
We join Willem Dafoe at the bedside of Maria Callas – as played by Marina Abramović or, perhaps, playing an alternate version of herself – as the singer/artist dies for the first time. One of a pair of lit candles is snuffed out, signalling the death of Willem Dafoe’s lover, who he now begins to mourn, yet the extinguished flame could equally refer to one absent side of the conceptual Callas/Abramović collaboration, or better put, this Maria/Marina duet taking place across time.
In Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, the heroine Violetta dies a slow, painful death from consumption. In this adaptation the artist takes her final breath – captured in the accompanying alabaster, entitled The Breath (2020-21), – just as Callas belts out her final note in the aria, Addio del Passato (Farewell to the Past), moving the scene from light to dark and beginning the film’s succession from life to death.