The boundaries of artistic expression have always been fluid, but in Tel Aviv this month, a new collaboration between the award-winning Israeli Opera and a handful of prominent artistic photographers are further blurring the lines between genres.
OPERART, an exhibition of artistic photography in which seven Israeli artists present their personal interpretation of the seven productions that will comprise the Israeli Opera’s 2017-2018 season, opened last week at Tel Aviv’s Noga Gallery of Contemporary Art.
It’s a blending of classical opera and cutting-edge artistic prints, and the results are stirring. Artist Naomi Leshem’s image was inspired by the opera “Dido and Aeneas,” in which a widowed queen falls tragically in love with a Trojan prince. In Leshem’s photograph, a veiled woman stands in a sun-drenched field, her hand nuzzling the forehead of a wolf-dog as a stark hill rises in the foreground behind her — an image that many fans of this opera by English baroque composer Henry Purcell would associate with its final act, where Aeneas leaves Dido forever and the queen of Carthage mourns in the best-known aria of the opera, “Dido’s Lament.”
In Ori Gersht’s take on British composer Benjamin Britten's opera “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the idea of dreams is zoomed in on. In his video, Gersht recreates a drop of enchanted water that Oberon, the king of fairies, uses in the drama to alter the vision and memories of his queen, Titania. The video shows the movements of a drop of water, in which there is the face of a young woman, which also becomes animated as the drop moves.
The seven pieces, which will remain on display at the Noga Gallery through Nov. 19 before moving to the foyer of Israel Opera House for the season, are as varied as the operas themselves.
The artists were asked to dig deep in their research of the works at hand, but were also allowed a free hand in their interpretations. The results, say curator Nechami Gottlib, offer the sweet spot of paradox where artistic expression soars. “We wanted high-quality works that stand alone, but on the other hand are intimately connected to the opera. That was the request and the challenge — something that was completely free, but also completely connected,” she says.
Artist Adi Brande’s take on “La Boheme” links the opera’s protagonist Mimi with the legendary real-life opera diva Maria Callas, who died a tragic and lonely death in Paris, through a black-and-white image whose perforated surface causes parts of the photo to disappear.
David Adika’s brings to mind more modern ideas. His interpretation of Verdi’s “Don Carlos” is a double portrait of a man whose shoulder tattoos infer ideas about social protest and political struggle, drawn from the icons of Arab music — a local Middle Eastern palimpsest traced over a grand European opus. His inspiration is drawn from the opera’s first act, in which Elisabeth, daughter of the king of France, is passed like a prize between two men.
Pavel Wolberg’s photograph of a monster-sized Ukrainian swan digs into the poem upon which “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” is based, by the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin; while Gilad Ophir’s print in an explosion of black and yellow examines the closing moments of “Don Giovanni” in which the perennial suitor’s death allows him, at last, to feel true emotion.
Michal Chelbin, meanwhile, an acclaimed portrait photographer, took the female-centric work of “Carmen” and zoomed in on its masculine toreador character. She then treats the character with a modern twist sourced in one of Israel’s most perplexing political issues — the population of Sudanese refugees living in south Tel Aviv. In her image, an 18-year-old Sudanese refugee by the name of Sani is photographed in the rococo, royal purple clothes of a matador. He lounges, his dark and rippled stomach exposed, on a sofa in the rundown Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, his face a blank canvas as the silk and gold fabrics he wears glint in the light.
“What I love about opera is the show itself, the costumes and the lighting. It’s a world of fantasy that you can escape to,” Chelbin says. “And in my work, I always try to combine the world of fantasy and the world of reality. That’s what I did here, I brought together fantasy and combined it with the world of real life.”