Opera, it is fair to say, is generally considered to be one of the more aristocratic aspects of the entertainment sector. Most members of opera audiences dress to the nines and, when they get to the auditorium, settle in to their plush seats ready for a visually and aurally exhilarating experience.
But relocating operatic endeavor from its formal onstage setting must surely have a telling effect on the nature of the offering. The proof of this particular pudding will be evident on October 6 when the Israeli Opera pops 100 or so meters up King Saul Boulevard in Tel Aviv to its equally illustrious neighbor, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, for the Opera Voices in the Museum.
This is not the first time the Israeli Opera has made a museum-based foray. Last year, members of the company traveled to Jerusalem to perform at the Israel Museum which, by all accounts, went over well with the public.
“That was very successful,” notes Israeli Opera pianist and conductor and Opera Voices in the Museum artistic director Eithan Schmeisser. “That was very encouraging and prompted us to do something at the Tel Aviv Museum, too.”
Naturally, we are not talking about a full operatic production here. The works will be performed by sopranos Hila Baggio and Avigail Gurtler, mezzo-soprano Anat Czarny and tenor Nimrod Grinboim, as well as various other soloists and a handful of instrumentalists playing harpsichord, piano, cello, harp and flute.
The official idea behind the extramural exercise is to mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the New Israeli Opera, but there is also some marketing benefit to be had.
“Not everyone who wants to see opera can come to our home base,” says Schmeisser. “We are the country’s only opera house, so it makes sense to bring opera to the public and not just confine ourselves to the people who come to see us at the opera house.”
While last year’s Israel Museum venture was the kick starter for the upcoming neighborly jaunt, the artistic substratum and line of thought come from a different direction.
“In Jerusalem, the idea was to connect the kind of art displayed in different parts of the museum with the musical works we presented,” continues Schmeisser. “For this project, the concept is about being less bound to matching the repertoire with the works that the various galleries exhibit. It is more about enabling the public to hear operatic works in places that are not natural settings for this kind of music.”
The mass appeal orientation of the Opera Voices in the Museum program is there for all to see and hear. The lineup features arias and duets from such perennial operatic favorites as Bizet’s Carmen, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Verdi’s Rigoletto and Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann.
Schmeisser was initially inspired to consider shifting the performance space by a trip to Holland around a decade ago, where he witnessed just such a venture. The artistic director says he saw that street-level performances of popular operatic material can work well and that it offers added value for the singers and players, too.
“The acoustics in gallery spaces, both in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, are very sonically complementary and warm. I think opera artists enjoy performing in these kinds of places,” he says.
It is not only the professionals that gain from the less formal surroundings. Schmeisser believes that seeing opera works performed at close quarters offers the paying public a more immediate and intimate entertainment experience.
“The members of the audience can benefit from two emotive experiences in parallel. They can enjoy the works we play and sing for them, and there is the visual experience of the works of art in the galleries, which I think informs the way the audience appreciate the music they hear,” he says.
The visual element is certainly first and foremost in the main Opera Voices in the Museum spot, the building’s “waterfall of light” hub.
The timing of the performances is also of prime importance to the effect of the end product.
“There are almost no works of art on view there and, at that time of the evening, the most captivating element is the reflection of the evening light, and it is not really about the cross-fertilization of works of art from different disciplines, as was the case in Jerusalem,” says Schmeisser.
The acoustical qualities of the Tel Aviv Museum’s newest, and most glittering, wing certainly helped to dictate the Opera Voices in the Museum repertoire. But, says the artistic director, other logistics also helped to point the way to the instruments that will be played on the occasion.
“The people at the museum obtained a very good harpsichord, so that led the way to the selection of Baroque works by Bach and maybe Monteverdi.”
Meanwhile, other logistics spawned constraints that led to some instrumental transposing.
“In one hall there is no piano, so we decided to use a harp, together with a cello and flute,” continues Schmeisser. “They are more delicate instruments, and I think that works well.”
The artistic director also feels that the aforementioned stricture produced some interesting, and welcome, unforeseen end results.
“Because of the choice of instruments we had to make, for instance in the gallery of Israeli art, where some of the works are based on the theme of war, we will end up performing soft Baroque works set against a backdrop of harsh topics. I think that contrast is likely to produce a very interesting experience for the people who will hear the music there,” he says.
The unique design of the physical surroundings also come into play in generating added value for the audiences.
“There are all sorts of surprises in store for the audiences, in spaces with stairs and little concealed spots,” says Schmeisser. “We will utilize some of these elements too, so that everyone enjoys a special experience.”
For tickets and more information: (03) 607-7000 and (03) 692-7777.