Discover: 7 Deaths of Maria Callas

The 7 Deaths of Maria Callas is a celebratory opera project, conceived by the internationally renowned performance artist, Marina Abramović.

This unique production recreates seven of Maria Callas‘ most meaningful soprano arias from works by Bellini, Bizet, Donizetti, Puccini and Verdi, and showcases music arranged by talented Serbian composer, Marko Nikodijević. These iconic arias are performed in front of seven films, featuring Marina Abramović and co-performer Willem Dafoe who die seven times on stage.

Delve into the story of the 7 Deaths of Maria Callas opera here as we share a synopsis, answer commonly asked audience questions, and provide a sneak peek of ENO’s production.  

7 Deaths of Maria Callas Synopsis

1. Violetta dies of tuberculosis.

I am a flickering flame on a lonely candle. The elements exposed: wind and rain, love and hate – sickness and health.
The flame can warm me or burn me. She can mean light the way and be my guide. But when she goes out, she is extinguished. Then it’s gone forever.

Violetta’s aria from La traviata, Act 3: “Addio, del passato”

2. Tosca throws herself down.

It’s not dangerous to jump. It’s not dangerous to fall. The air flow, the blood through the veins. Suspended and yet falling. You have time to feel, time to love. Forever. No, it’s not dangerous to fall. Only when you land does it become dangerous.

Tosca’s aria from Tosca, Act 2: “Vissi d’arte

3. Desdemona is strangled by Otello.

There is an intuition, a premonition, a feeling, a suspicion, a fear, and a warning. Desdemona knew. She removes her wedding dress and prays. When Otello came, she was prepared.

Aria of Desdemona from Otello, Act 4: “Ave Maria”

4. Cio-Cio-San takes her own life.

In science, the butterfly effect stands for an effect in which small causes lead to unpredictable consequences. In superstition, the butterfly is your lover visiting you. In mythology, the butterfly is a human soul; whether alive, dying or already dead.

Aria of Cio-Cio-San from Madama Butterfly, Act 2: “Un bel dì, vedremo”

5. Carmen is stabbed by Don José.

Your fearlessness fascinates me. Your love of freedom mirrors mine.
Her burgeoning sexuality empowers her. She knows what she wants and takes it. Love guides her heart. Her beauty and her body belong only to her.

Aria (Habanera) of Carmen from Carmen, Act 1: “L’amour est un oiseau rebel”

6. Lucia dies insane.

When the universe conspires against you, tramples on your heart, crushes your soul and enters your brain, you will go crazy. And when you go crazy, you’re no longer responsible for yourself or those around you. Love turns to hate, hate becomes love, and death becomes the ultimate liberation.

Lucia’s aria from Lucia di Lammermoor, Act 3: “Il dolce suono”

7. Norma goes into the fire.

You go towards the pyre. The first steps are warm, then it gets hotter. Your skin tingles, your eyes water, your hair is singed. You move on. Your skin will turn red before it forms bubbles. But you keep going. The smell of burning flesh. Your skin turns black, blindness, hair on fire, scorched lungs. But you go further – each step requires an incredible amount of effort.
Just before the fire engulfs you, you realise you are not alone. Then the final step into the flames – united.

Aria of Norma from Norma, Act 1: “Casta Diva”

8. Maria Callas dies of a broken heart.

Marina Abramović goes into Maria Callas’ bedroom at 36 avenue Georges-Mandel in Paris, where the singer died on September 16, 1977 at the age of 53.
But is Maria Callas really dead or does she still exist, oscillating between life and death? Marina Abramović slides into Callas’ past life and exposes herself unconditionally.
She sees photos on the bed, she looks at herself in the mirror, opens the window and breathes Parisian air before Maria’s voice sounds once more.

The texts by Petter Skavlan were created for the opera project 7 Deaths of Maria Callas. Marina Abramović recorded the lyrics. You can hear them in front of the seven arias.

Frequently Asked Questions about 7 Deaths of Maria Callas

A performance of 7 Deaths of Maria Callas at the ENO’s London Coliseum is 1h30m with no interval.

The libretto of 7 Deaths of Maria Callas is by Marina Abramović.
The production also features music arranged by composer Marko Nikodijević, and scenes from works by Vincenzo Bellini, Georges Bizet, Gaetano Donizetti, Giacomo Puccini and Giuseppe Verdi.

7 Deaths of Maria Callas contains scenes from 7 different operas.

The “7 deaths” in the title of this opera refer to the deaths of 7 different opera heroines. These were roles that Maria Callas sung extensively throughout her career.

  • Violetta from La traviata
  • Tosca from Tosca
  • Desdemona from Otello
  • Cio-Cio-San from Madame Butterfly
  • Carmen from Carmen
  • Lucia from Lucia di Lammermoor
  • Norma from Norma

The story of 7 Deaths of Maria Callas is of a sleeping Maria Callas being haunted by seven opera roles that Callas performed throughout her life.
Famous arias are sung from the seven operas: La traviata, Tosca, Madam Butterfly, Carmen, Otello, Lucia di Lamermoor and Norma. Accompanying each of these aria performances are a series of short films starring Marina Abramović and actor Willem Dafoe.

Read the introductory guide to 7 Deaths of Maria Callas