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A loss to music: Mira Calix, 1970–2022

Opera North is deeply saddened to learn of the recent death of Mira Calix, the musician, producer and artist who brought her boundless imagination and genre-bending creativity to several major commissions for the Company.

Born Chantal Passamonte in South Africa in 1970, Mira was one of the first female signings to Sheffield’s Warp Records. From predominantly electronic beginnings, her palette expanded to include everything from classical ensembles to found sounds and even amplified insects, as she worked with animation, installation, sculpture and soundtracks as well as more conventional studio recordings.

Commissioned in collaboration with United Visual Artists to celebrate the reopening of the Howard Assembly Room in 2009, her kinetic installation Chorus suspended a series of motor-assisted pendulums from the roof, which swung through the space emitting light and sound, each of which affected the other.

In her moving tribute for The Guardian, Jude Rogers relates the reaction of an elderly couple to the work when it was installed in Durham Cathedral – and the artist’s characteristically open-hearted response.

Dead Wedding, an Opera North commission for the Manchester International Festival, was Mira’s newly-imagined sequel to the Orpheus myth. Marking the 400th anniversary of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, she brought live music, electronics and eerie voices together with Faulty Optic’s puppetry and film in a frightening, funny evocation of a disembodied afterlife.

“I was immensely saddened and shocked to learn of the death of Chantal”, says composer Gavin Bryars, who worked with her on another Opera North project: “I set eight Shakespeare sonnets for Nothing like the Sun, Opera North’s collaboration with the RSC in 2006, and invited her as one of five composers from different backgrounds to set sonnets of their choice.

“Chantal’s was the last one commissioned, and coincidentally she chose Sonnet 130, which happened to include the phrase that we had already chosen for the project’s title. With its glittering mixture of electronics, instruments and voices, it was unlike any of the others and was like a jewel, right in the centre of the programme. It was a great project and we got on really well: she was a very lovely person.”

“Hearing that Chantal has died makes the world feel a little less bright and interesting”, says Opera North’s Head of Projects, Jo Nockels. “Her restlessly inventive mind and energy brought such creativity to the music she made with us and to all the other adventurous projects she made. A loss to music.”

Projects Director Dominic Gray adds: “Mira’s projects with us were fantastically collaborative; she created beautiful things with installation artists, theatre makers and writers, as well as her fellow composers and musicians. People loved working with her, and had real fun; she made people laugh.”

Header image: Mira Calix © Warp Records


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