Watch Maria Callas, Now in Living Color

Watch Maria Callas, Now in Living Color

What was it like to experience the great soprano Maria Callas? Technology continues to try to approximate an answer for those who missed her storied career.

Her recordings have been remastered, and re-remastered. A holographic image of her, accompanied by a live orchestra, is going on a world tour. Now a new documentary, “Maria by Callas,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles on Nov. 2, has colorized some of the all-too-rare footage of her singing.

Here is Callas, now in vibrant color, in two of her most celebrated roles: Bellini’s Norma and Puccini’s Tosca. The “Tosca” film, taken at the Royal Opera House in London in 1964, is well known — but only in black and white. Tom Volf, the director of “Maria by Callas,” restored it in high definition and colorized it, bringing out deep red of her velvet dress, the gold of the brocade, the glitter of her jewels.

“The idea is to make her accessible to new generations, and younger audiences,” he said in a telephone interview.

Mr. Volf said that he got the idea to colorize some of Callas’s performances while collecting footage — much of which has never been seen before — for the film, and discovering, to his surprise, how much was already in color, and what a visceral reaction it gave him.

“It was very striking to me that watching her in color suddenly gave me the sense almost that she was alive, that she was there,” he said. “She was not some kind of dusty figure from the past, but somehow she was present, and in the present.”

So he decided to colorize some of the performance footage, too — but only in cases where he had good color photographs to match. For the Royal Opera “Tosca,” he tracked down the original reels of 16-millimeter film in one archive, and a full set of color images of the production in another.

“It was almost like a detective job,” he said. The photographs, he added, “gave us 100 percent of the references for everything: the sets, the costumes, her makeup, every single color.”

Colorization can be polarizing. Film buffs tend to cringe when classic black-and-white movies are colorized, but here there is no director whose auteur vision is being altered. Then there are the persistent questions of how well it is done; see the endless debates about the colors used to restore Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel paintings. But Mr. Volf said that the colorized Callas was winning fans.

“The greatest compliment I had was from people who attended some of those performances,” he said. “They said to me after the film, ‘You know, we remember that red dress.’ They remembered, vividly, her makeup, because she had a very particular way of doing her makeup, and they said, ‘That was exactly it.’”

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