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, âMaria by Callas,â 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: Belliniâs Norma and Pucciniâs Tosca. The âToscaâ film, taken at the Royal Opera House in London in 1964, is well known â but only in black and white. Tom Volf, the director of âMaria by Callas,â 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.
âThe idea is to make her accessible to new generations, and younger audiences,â he said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Volf said that he got the idea to colorize some of Callasâs performances while collecting footage â much of which has never been seen before â for the film, and discovering, to his surprise, how much was already in color, and what a visceral reaction it gave him.
âIt was very striking to me that watching her in color suddenly gave me the sense almost that she was alive, that she was there,â he said. âShe was not some kind of dusty figure from the past, but somehow she was present, and in the present.â
So he decided to colorize some of the performance footage, too â but only in cases where he had good color photographs to match. For the Royal Opera âTosca,â 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.
âIt was almost like a detective job,â he said. The photographs, he added, âgave us 100 percent of the references for everything: the sets, the costumes, her makeup, every single color.â
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 Michelangeloâs Sistine Chapel paintings. But Mr. Volf said that the colorized Callas was winning fans.
âThe greatest compliment I had was from people who attended some of those performances,â he said. âThey said to me after the film, âYou know, we remember that red dress.â They remembered, vividly, her makeup, because she had a very particular way of doing her makeup, and they said, âThat was exactly it.ââ