In this age of virtual communication, virtual relationships and virtual entertainment, next week’s Opera in the Galleries confluence between the Israel Opera and the Israel Museum is like a wonderfully corporeal breath of fresh air.
The five-day event at the Jerusalem institution (Sunday-Thursday) will bring the thrills, joys and sheer aesthetic delights of music and the visual arts to cultural consumers through a reciprocally enhancing fusion of works from five galleries in the museum with a selection of musical items performed by four vocalists from the Tel Aviv opera house, with piano and string instrument accompaniment.
Israel Opera pianist and conductor Eithan Schmeisser is the brains behind the new artistic venture, despite his insistence that he did not conceive the idea himself.
“I wish I could say I came up with this,” he admits. “Ten years ago I was at a festival in Holland, and there were all sorts of things there, including concerts in galleries,” he recalls, noting that besides adding a visual dimension to the proceedings, the venue offers sonic advantages, too.
“The acoustics in galleries are generally very good, because of the design of the walls and the fact that everything is exposed – often better than regular concert halls. So there is something very inviting about the idea of performing music in that kind of space.”
If Schmeisser was looking to get the peripatetic show off with a splash he certainly went for broke by opting to open the program at the Color Gone Wild exhibition of Fauve and Expressionist paintings by the likes of Kandinsky, Derain, Matisse and Braque, followed by spots at the Modernism in Dialogue, Pop Art and Modern Israeli Art galleries.
Naturally, the range of musical works the audiences will hear will reflect the visual aesthetics and sensibilities exuded by the exhibits on the walls.
“The special element here is that the musical works, the opera excerpts, that were selected are designed to create some sort of dialogue with the works on show at each of the galleries,” explains Schmeisser, adding that the aural entertainment will be as varied as the host painting styles. “The musical program appeals to a very wide range of tastes.”
The discipline and interest spread is a salient case in point, and it is intriguing to observe how the different areas of the arts, and indeed academic pursuits, have evolved through the ages. Has music, for example, developed in parallel with painting and sculpture, or have the various avenues of artistic expression progressed at different paces or is there some degree of symbiosis between them?
“There are many aspects here to consider,” says Schmeisser. “You can look at the historical aspect and the common elements of different periods in the history of art as compared with their musical parallels. If you take, for example, the works from the Color Gone Wild exhibition you’ll see that they don’t all come from the same geographic region."
“We went for works that convey a sense of color and ambiance, such as compositions by Debussy. There are works in which you see that the known rules of musical composition are beginning to fragment, and that seemed to us to be compatible with the artistic mindset of the works in the gallery.”
The evening’s opener comes from Puccini’s opera Tosca which, Schmeisser feels, gets the show on the right path. “Puccini was influenced by Debussy and Tosca has elements of color in it and was a very progressive work that opened the 20th century.
The program we chose for the Color Gone Wild exhibition is very representative of the music of the era, and the compositions have all sorts of interesting links between them. That was our line of thought for the whole repertoire for the museum.”
The Color Gone Wild slot also features an aria from Bizet’s Carmen.
While there will be plenty of operatic material, fans of more commercial contemporary beats will have plenty to enjoy. The Pop Art gallery naturally lends itself to works by the likes of New York underground musician Lou Reed, who was part of legendary pop art figure Andy Warhol’s entourage, and songs by The Beatles and Radiohead.
While Schmeisser notes the acoustic benefits of performing music in a museum space, there are disadvantages to the locale.
“We had all sorts of technical problems to deal with in the pop art gallery,” he says.
“We couldn’t have a piano there and the gallery is larger than many of the other galleries and has an unusual shape. It has a sort of large dome, too.”
There were also some artistic traps to be circumnavigated.
“You have to be careful, when you do new arrangements of pop songs, that you don’t end up with a load of kitsch, like [Italian philosopher] Umberto Eco’s view of kitsch as something that you try to elevate to a higher artistic status, and make out that you are offering something new. We wanted to steer clear of that.
“I hope we didn’t err in the opposite direction, but sometimes you can’t know how the public will take what you give them.”
The Pop Art repertoire includes a rendition of Reed’s “Perfect Day” by a soprano singer together with a violinist.
The magical musical tour of the museum will also traverse European art and music of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century when visual artists were crossing boundaries while composers were sticking with the old styles even after, for example, the likes of Gian Carlo Menotti and Kurt Weill emigrated to the United States.
The evening’s entertainment ends at the gallery of Modern Israeli Art where the audience will hear a wide range of Israeli songs, from different eras, arranged by some of our current top composers, such as Netta Shachar.
“It was only natural that we end the program with some of our songs,” notes Schmeisser. “I hope the public gets a well-rounded and enjoyable offering.”
Opera in the Galleries will take place daily between November 24 and November 28, with performances starting at 7 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. For tickets and more information: (02) 677- 1300 and www.imj.org.il.