A dead voice lives again at Jorgensen


Remembering Maria Callas, 40 Years After Her Death. Maria Callas in 1958. CBS TELEVISION / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The show began simply enough, with the orchestra performing the overture from Rossini’s “Il Signor Bruschino” unaccompanied. After the applause died down, Callas took the stage. The audience was floored, with audible gasps and cheers filling the room. The whole experience of seeing the hologram for the first time inspired awe.

As if really returned from the grave, Callas appeared like a spectre, translucent as she walked past the orchestra. Finally, once she took center stage, the effect reached its full force. Callas appeared both physically grounded and at the same time separate from her surroundings. While the orchestra was shrouded in shadows, she appeared in vivid color like something out of an old technicolor movie.

One of the strangest aspects of the show appeared when Callas finished her pieces. I would lose sight of the fact that this was a hologram, clapping along as if it were for a living person. Callas’ presence was so captivating that I often forgot about the live orchestra with whom she shared the stage. It was clear that great effort was put into giving their Callas personality. At a few points in the show she interacted with the orchestra, motioning for the conductor to hold at one point and jokingly pulling at her dress as if one of the violinists had stepped on it. When the spotlight was hers, she never looked artificial.

Even with all of its visual flourishes, there were slight issues in terms of sound. The audio recordings used for Callas’ voice were from the 1960s, meaning there were occasional inconsistencies. While most of the vocals sounded outstandingly remastered, there were points throughout when the sound would dip in quality, making the illusion more noticeable. Still, the work they were able to do with the resources available was very impressive.

Aside from the issues in recording quality, Callas’ voice sounded spectacular, reminding everyone why she still holds her reputation as one of the greatest opera singers of all time. Three highlights of the night were the opening number “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliet,” “L’amour et un oiseau rebelle” from Bizet’s “Carmen” (definitely the most easily recognizable piece on the program) and her first encore, “Vissi d’arte” from Puccini’s “Tosca.” Her voice holds such power and grace that it melts the heart and touches the soul. Even though Callas herself was not there, the emotion in her voice still carried her presence.

The show’s conductor, Eímear Noone, shed some light after the performance on how the hologram and orchestra were able to come together so beautifully.

“The hologram technology is absolutely cutting edge. First of all, her voice had to be separated from the original recordings. We’re using her original vocals,” Noone said.

Synchronizing the live orchestra to the vocals and hologram proved an especially difficult challenge because of Calla’s constant use of rubatos (temporary shifts in tempo). Noone called their system of synchronization “the most complex that’s ever been created.”

While her name is not so well-known to audiences today, especially college-age crowds, Callas was a major star in her time.

“She was called ‘la divina,’” Noone said. Meaning, “the divine one,” Noone explained, “when we use the word ‘diva’ today, she was really the first one to coin that term, the first one to whom that term was given. She was larger than life. She was a huge, not just classical music figure, but she was a sort of a pop icon at the time.”

Listening to Callas is a true emotional experience. Her talent and vocal power are a perfect introduction to opera music for anyone interested.

“She’s a singular voice. There’s never anyone like her and there hasn’t been anyone like her since because her voice is so unique to her,” Noone said.

Evan Burns is campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at evan.burns@uconn.edu.

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