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When Is A Duet Actually A Duet?

Soprano Angela Gheorghiu.
courtesy of the artist
Soprano Angela Gheorghiu.

Soprano Angela Gheorghiu has drafted an unlikely collaborator. For her latest album, Homage To Maria Callas: Favourite Opera Arias, the Romanian singer recorded a "duet" with Callas on the Habanera from Bizet's Carmen, using concert footage of La Divina from 1961, in a feat an EMI engineer has likened to "audio Photoshop."

This isn't the first time Gheorghiu has paid overt tribute to her fellow Balkanite. The cover of her My World album re-created a famous Callas photo. But this new video takes that enthusiasm a step further.

And Gheorghiu isn't even the only artist this month to release a project containing a duet between the living and the deceased. The folks behind the Zenph technology of "re-performances®," as they style them, have created projects including "re-performances®" of Rachmaninoff, Glenn Gould and Art Tatum. They even had violinist Joshua Bell "duet" live with Rachmaninoff:

For the latest Zenph effort, they've enlisted soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and cellist Zuill Bailey to performing "alongside" Isaac Albeniz (who died in 1909), Enrique Granados (d. 1916) and Manuel de Falla (d. 1946).

This is all kind of old hat to the larger musical world. Twenty or so years ago, there was Natalie Cole singing with her deceased dad, not to mention Hank Williams père et fils' "There's A Tear In My Beer" or the unspeakable Louis Armstrong and Kenny G "collaboration." Perhaps there's a greater sensitivity to such projects in the classical world, which is so often occupied with — and maybe even paralyzed by — very strongly held notions of received tradition and respect.

What do you think of these kinds of generation-spanning projects? Are they interesting? Disrespectful? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a correspondent on NPR's Culture desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including the trial and conviction of former R&B superstar R. Kelly; backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; and gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards.