Seeing is hearing

The forthcoming production of the perennially popular work, which will take place at the Tel Aviv Opera House will be sumptuously visually enhanced by an arresting video backdrop.

'Opera is awash with elements, and it is something very lavish and grandiose, as are opera houses,’ says Rovner (photo credit: Courtesy)
'Opera is awash with elements, and it is something very lavish and grandiose, as are opera houses,’ says Rovner
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is a safe bet that Giuseppe Verdi could not have imagined just how far the presentation of his opera Il Trovatore (“The Troubadour”) would be taken a century and a half after it was written. The forthcoming production of the perennially popular work, which will take place at the Tel Aviv Opera House (December 31 to January 16), will be sumptuously visually enhanced by an arresting video backdrop courtesy of internationally renowned multidisciplinary Israeli artist Michal Rovner.
The opera was first unveiled to a highly enthused audience at the Teatro Apollo in Rome, on January 19, 1853, from where, according to British opera scholar and Verdi biographer Julian Budden, it “began a victorious march throughout the operatic world.” Verdi was clearly a marketing executive’s dream and, despite a dip in the “victorious march” in the mid-to-late 19th century, the blip ended when conductor Arturo Toscanini revived the work in 1902. Its popularity has continued unabated to this day.
Artists must, by definition, venture into the unknown. They have to take a leap of faith, trust their instincts and hope they end up with something of value. That suits Rovner’s creative philosophy well. It was also the reason that she split from the Department of Film and Television at the University of Tel Aviv in 1981.
“It didn’t suit me [at university] having to work in groups and to announce what I wanted to do from the start, and to give the reasoning for the objective,” she recalls. “That is completely opposite to the way I work. I don’t like to use words to set out what I want to do. If I define my goal at the beginning, the best thing I can hope for, at the end, is to come up with a decent illustration.”
Rovner qualifies her go-for-broke line.
“It’s not exactly as if I take a shot in the dark. I, of course, connect with something I love, but the way I go about the work is not really structured.”
The artist, whose highly impressive list of solo shows includes showing at the Louvre in Paris, MOMA in New York, and the Tate Gallery in London, certainly cast caution to the wind for her contribution to Il Trovatore, the professional roster of which also features Polish director Michal Znaniecki, with Daniel Oren as conductor and a string of internationally feted vocalists.
Rovner earns her crust in numerous areas of the arts, taking in sound, photography, sculpture and drawing, in addition to her video work. She says the multifarious mode suits her current project perfectly.
“This opera comprises so many elements that exist within a highly complex situation,” she notes, adding that she had to travel some mindset distance in order to come to grips with the job.
“This is a medium that is very different from my normal field of work. In all my work I erase all the little details. I have very few lines in the things I create.” That is light years away from her venture with Il Trovatore.
“Opera is awash with elements, and it is something very lavish and grandiose, as are opera houses.”
Getting Rovner on board proved to be a protracted business. In the end it was empathy that eventually roped her in.
“The director came to Israel and showed me all kinds of things he was doing with the opera,” says the video artist. “I told him I wasn’t about to get into something new like that, and that I didn’t even like opera.” Znaniecki’s comeback caught Rovner by surprise.
“He told me he didn’t like opera either, but that he turned it into something else.”
Rovner enjoyed an auspicious taste of the latter at the start of the project.
“I got my first look at this opera at [Teatro di] San Carlo, in Naples [one of the world’s oldest opera houses, which dates from 1737]. I couldn’t really take in the fact that I had been given the great honor to do something there. It was like stepping into a sanctuary of this art.”
That did the trick.
“I met the director of the opera, and I really didn’t feel working in opera was for me, and he invited me to see the show in Naples. I saw the centuries-old fresco on the wall, the red velvet seats and all the glorious interior, and the dancers and singers. It was incredible.
“Then they asked me to screen some video art, and they played a recording of [legendary diva] Maria Callas. It was the aria from Il Trovatore, ‘On the Rosy Wings of Love.’ I was just screening a red-colored scene, with figures walking toward an endless horizon.
Callas [as Leonora] was singing about her lover, who had been taking captive, and she tells him she is waiting for him, with her love, and about the power of love to change things. I was drawn into it.”
The combination of Znaniecki’s gentle persuasion, supported by the artistic director of the opera house in Naples, the physical setting, and the sensibilities conveyed by Verdi’s score proved too much for Rovner, and she was completely won over.
“The artistic director and Michal [Znaniecki] said that I shouldn’t bother with the plot, and only bother myself with the music. They said I should just create a video work for the 15 minutes of the aria, and nothing else.” However, once bitten, there was no turning back for Rovner.
She was also intrigued by the enigmatic nature of the opera.
“There are so many things which are hard to understand, and you have to read between the lines,” she says. The heady romance of Il Trovatore also got to her.
“These days, in art, everyone has to be so reserved, and so relevant, and also work some kind of protest into the work. In this opera, the whole thing is the emotion, the unfathomable depths of emotion. And there is also exalted and uplifting emotion. It is an incredible experience to connect with something like that.”
Rovner’s video creations often generally incorporate a large number of details and figures, and require meticulous planning. That aspect of the operative production also appealed to her sense of artistry and professionalism.
“There were all these wonderful artists who came from all over the world to invest their experience and perfectionism in the opera. And it is not like making a movie, where you retake a scene over and over again. With opera it is all live on the stage, and everything has to be just right.”
Initial reluctance notwithstanding, once she’d thrown her lot in with Znaniecki and the others, Rovner was a willing and enthusiastic accomplice.
“This is such a powerful opera. You have these strange and compelling transitions with Verdi, from poetic, lyrical sections to tragic and violent parts. There is everything in Il Trovatore – love, jealousy, every possible kind of emotion.”
And, in case you are one of the many who find Il Trovatore puzzling and enchanting in equal measures, don’t expect Rovner’s outsized video backdrop to enlighten you.
“I don’t provide an illustration of the storyline,” she declares. “I just join all the artists in this project. The things I screen are just part of the drama.”
For tickets and more information about performances of Il Trovatore: (03) 692- 7777 and