Back to life, back to reality

Callas in Concert – The Hologram Tour kicked off last week in the US. Maria Roberts chats to uber-cool composer and conductor Eímear Noone about the resurrecting the world’s most beloved singer.

One of the world’s most popular sopranos is on the comeback circuit thanks to cutting-edge technology. Callas in Concert – The Hologram Tour will bring famed opera star Maria Callas (who died in 1977) before a live audience 45 years after her farewell performance at Royal Festival Hall. The tour, which began on 23 September at Jackson Hall, Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in California, will stop off for dates in Texas, Florida, Saltillo, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, London, Amsterdam, Brussels and Paris – to name just a few – before the final show on 7 December at Merh! Theater, Hamburg.

The show is produced by industry leaders BASE Hologram Productions (BHP). The vocals are taken from Callas’ digitally remastered Warner Classics’ recordings, accompanied by a 55-piece orchestra led by Irish conductor Eímear Noone.

We caught up with Noone to find out more about how she tackled the process of working with a reimagined musical icon.

IAM: How did you prepare for the concert? What it is like to work with a hologram, can you really bring a classical artist back from beyond the grave?

Eímear Noone: I prepared the scores as I would to accompany any vocal artist. The process began by listening to and internalising Callas’ rubatos, phrasing and famous style, after which composer and music technology expert Craig Stuart Garfinkle and I put together a complex synchronisation system for every note of each piece so that I could best serve her performance.

For me and the artistic directors of this project, Callas in Concert is a complete homage to an incredible talent and we’re approaching it with a combination of seriousness and devotion. We’re hoping to pass Callas’ legacy – and the sense of awe you get from witnessing a talent like hers – on to a new generation, whilst sensitively gifting her original fans with a nostalgic and poignant experience.

IAM: Does it actually work though? How excited can audiences get about an artist that is simply a projection on stage?

EN: Having conducted so many multi-media projects, many of which were at the bleeding edge of technology, I relish the technical challenges this amazing concept presents. I can’t tell you yet what it’s like to work with the first ever hologram of a classical artist, because it’s completely new to us all! BHP, the technological geniuses behind this project, also presented the Roy Orbison hologram concerts in collaboration with the Orbison family, but this is a first for classical music and presents completely different musical, technical and synchronisation challenges.

Before becoming a part of the team, I had to know that the technology was serving the artist first. After speaking with The Juilliard’s passionately creative Stephen Wadsworth [who teachers opera postgraduates at the famous institution] and reading his scripted concept for the concert, I found it to be incredibly moving and a beautiful tribute to “La Divina”, the great Maria Callas.

Eímear Noone © Steve Humphreys
Eímear Noone © Steve Humphreys

IAM: Doesn’t it seem a little odd to bring an artist back from the dead when we have so many great living artists?

EN: When a composer passes, they leave their scores to be reignited in performance by future generations and thus their great gift to human history lives on and continues to inspire in the live concert environment. When we lose a great performance artist, they take with them the inimitable spirit, and staggering natural gift, from which stemmed their unique voice. Maria Callas wasn’t a once-in-a-generation artist; she was a once-in-music-history icon.

BHP had a very positive experience with their Roy Orbison project, but Callas is a completely different artist, with a completely different audience. These really are uncharted waters in the classical world and I’m delighted to be a part of the team bringing something cutting-edge and beautiful to audiences. The technology I’ve seen so far has been stunning.

IAM: You have created a niche for yourself at the heart of the very specialised intersection between art, music and technology. What do you make of these developments and where are we heading?

EN: When I think of coupling music and technology, I think of the early days of opera and ballet and the amazing “machines” they used on stage to tell a story. At the time, creative imagination pushed the limits of these machines and constantly spurred the technical limitations toward new horizons.

I love to imagine what a technology like virtual reality would have done in the hands of a voraciously creative Wagner or what might have delighted Mozart about an interactive online role-playing game! I see technology as a modern extension of the multimedia that has always inspired collaboration between composers and artists of differing disciplines. I always joke that one of the first composers to have to come head-to-head with the pyrotechnics guys and early sound-designers was Handel when he premiered his compositions for the Royal Fireworks. I can only imagine the arguments at tech rehearsals! Handel was one of the first to learn what today’s action movie composers know all too well – lots of explosions need lots of brass!

It inspires me to mine the depths of technology’s capabilities. However, it’s only interesting when it is seamlessly assumed into the art and used in the most creative of ways.

Eímear Noone is a California based award-winning Irish composer and conductor. She is responsible for some of the most enduring soundscapes in the World of Warcraft series and a stack of other best-selling video games. Noone has conducted orchestras such as the Royal Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony and The Philadelphia orchestras as well as working on scores for directors such as Gus Van Sant and Joe Dante. Noone founded a major European game music festival in Ireland and is an advocate for, and mentor to, creative women in tech and music. She also consults on Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle as coach to female lead, Lola Kirke.