Review Scene: Maria Callas: A Concert in Hologram, Hamer Hall 7th Dec 2023 by Laura Boukouvalas

An evening with an icon

Maria Callas or La Divina as her enthusiasts call her, has left an indelible mark on opera and the arts world. She rose to worldwide recognition in the 1950s for her moving aria interpretations and impressive vocal range which helped revive the bel canto repertoire and revolutionise opera.  An American-born Greek, she is considered one of the greatest sopranos of all time. Callas has been a source of fascination and a true diva in every sense of the word, from the beginning of her remarkable career as an Opera singer with a unique ability to convey emotion through her music until her untimely death at just 57 years of age.

To celebrate 100 years since she came into the world, a unique collaboration has been developed between the EU and Australia, with the help of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to allow audiences experience some of her best performances in a completely immersive way.  Maria Callas is brought to life on stage using holographic technology that creates a 3D rendering of the singer and recordings of her performances, set amongst the live music of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.  Her arias began with ‘Je Veux Vivre’ from Gouod’s Romeo et Juliette through to the much-lauded ‘Casta Diva’ from Bellini’s Norma and ‘Vissi d’art’ from Puccini’s Tosca. 

The MSO was led by acclaimed conductor, composer and pianist Daniel Schlosberg who was heavily involved in developing the program.  It was evident that a lot of work had gone into creating as realistic performance as possible and the precision of musical timing with Callas’s performance is impressive.  Schlosberg’s passion and enthusiasm is infectious and helps bring together all of the performance elements.  While watching Maria Callas in hologram and the way she interacts with both the audience and orchestra, something becomes evidently clear, we are given a sense of how much she truly commanded the stage with her presence.  While at times it felt awkward responding to a hologram rather than a real person, the audience couldn’t help but applaud when our virtual performer seemed to expect it.  Schlosberg and the orchestra also diligently and obediently seemed to take their cues from her gestures and respond accordingly to bring to life the artistic interactions that once would have taken place. I would have loved to have seen an even larger orchestra ensemble to fully match the impressive range and scale of Callas’s resounding vocals which filled Hammer Hall to its limits. The sound from the orchestra seemed somewhat subdued and perhaps intentionally secondary to Callas’ vocals.

The incorporation of virtual technology into artistic performances is still in its infancy and is also currently being explored in other forms by other artists including ABBA and KISS.  We should expect to see further exploration and experimentation in this space as it is certainly innovative and brings a different dynamic to how we appreciate artists past and present.  It also provides a new dynamic for how an orchestra can be deployed in a performance.  While it may be no substitute for the real thing, I walked away with a much stronger impression of what the impact of a live performance by Callas on the audience might have been like and just how significant her presence would have been.