Operahjälpen is a site-specific opera project by Joshua Sofaer for the festival Opera Showroom at Folkoperan, Stockholm, Sweden.
Members of the public applied for a ticket with a problem. Opera singers then went to audience members’ homes for a private interaction. The singer listened to the problem, selected an aria they felt appropriate and gave a private recital that addressed the issue raised.
Operahjälpen acknowledged that the experience and interpretation of art is created in the space between any individual audience member and the work of art.
Do you have a love or relationship problem?
Are you love sick, or facing divorce? Has your partner stopped listening to you? Do your children disrespect you? Do you have a poor relationship with your parents? Are you grieving someone’s death? Are you sick of being single? Do you have a crush on your boss at work?
We believe in opera and we think that opera might have a solution for you.
If you book a private session with one of our singers or musicians, they will come to your home, try to better understand your problem, and proscribe an operatic repertoire with the aim of addressing your particular concern. As well as introducing you to music that you can listen to in your own time, they will perform live for you, as you sit in your most comfortable chair, or even as you rest in bed.
This may seem like a gimmick to you, but we are entirely serious.
Why not give Operahjälpen a try?
To apply for one of the available slots, please indicate your problem, your address and your preferred performance date, and one of our representatives will contact you to confirm whether or not we can accommodate your request.
Operahjälpen is for residents of Stockholm. Performances in your home last for about 30 minutes.
Operahjälpen was devised, created and directed by Joshua Sofaer
Pia Kronqvist, Managing Director
Mellika Melouani Melani, Artistic Director
Joakim Unander, Musical Director
Operahjälpen was produced by Jonas Palerius, Linda Beijer and the Folkoperan team.
Journalist Igor Gedilaghine from APF news agency asks Joshua Sofaer some questions about Operahjälpen
1 – How did this idea come about?
I met Mellika Melouani Melani, the Artistic Director of Folkoperan, at a seminar in Oslo where we were both presenting our work. I was very interested when she described what Folkoperan were trying to do and I loved the idea of a ‘People’s Opera’. When Mellika invited me to propose an idea for Opera Showroom, I thought about what opera could ‘do’ in the world. For a long time, I have been a passionate audience of opera but I have never worked with opera singers professionally. I wanted to think about what it was that opera did to me. Why did it make me so emotional? For the right people, opera is a bit like a drug. It gives you a ‘fix’. I passionately believe in the power of art to change lives and to offer people the opportunity to see things differently, or to be given permission to behave in a new way. Operahjälpen comes out of those sets of concerns. For the last years I have been making work that considers what happens in the space of art meeting an audience. Operahjälpen is part of that body of work.
2 – What kind of music, what composers, in your opinion are the best to heal one’s soul? What about you personally?
I don’t think that any single composer is ‘best’. It depends on the context and individual mood. We had to use well-known repertoire for Operahjälpen because we were reliant on the backing orchestrations that have already been recorded. This meant we were limited to the classic 18th and 19th Century opera works. Those classics of Italian and German opera are, though, the ones that I suppose most people immediately have an emotional response to. They ‘cut through’ you somehow and get straight to your emotional core.
It is important to stress that Operahjälpen is not Music Therapy. I have been training as a Relational Dynamics Coach because, as an artist, I am interested in thinking about new ways of communicating with audiences. I have shared some of my own learning with the singers, so that they can actively listen to the problems that people present. But we are not offering therapy of any kind. We are simply offering opera. Some problems may be too big for Operahjälpen but probably no problem is too small. (If we are presented with problems that are too big for us, we will redirect people to conventional counseling services in the city.)
3 – What difference does it make to have a singer coming to your home instead of going yourself to a concert or listening to a CD?
Well there are a lot of differences and I suppose it is these reasons that are the point of Operahjälpen. The first point is that when a singer comes to your home and listens to your problem first, when they later sing to you, you feel that it is you who are being uniquely addressed. This forces you to listen in a different way. There is an exchange at play. The singer listens to your problem and you listen to the singer. The second point is that the force and power of the voice in a small space (certainly smaller than an opera house) is incredible. I don’t think people are prepared for the impact of that sound, even when they know it is coming. The quality of the sound reverberating around the room ‘hits’ you in the chest. There is a kind of vibration (a physical vibration) that happens in your body. The third point is that the sound changes the room. At best, there is a kind of ‘haunting’ that happens in the room after the singer leaves. The sound somehow lingers. If you go out of the room and return, you remember the sound of the singer in that space. The space has changed. The fourth point is that it is your space. It is true that when you go to a concert, you necessarily bring all your own problems and issues too, and that going to a concert can be cathartic and life enriching, fulfilling a personal need. In a way, all we are doing with Operahjälpen is to highlight that by reversing the priority. In a concert it is ostensibly the music that has the priority, and it may or may not address your personal need. In Operahjälpen the individual problem has the priority and it is this that enlists the music. But paradoxically, I believe that in Operahjälpen people listen to the music more attentively than they would otherwise do, and therefore, the music assumes ultimate significance, and hopefully, the problem slips away. There are probably more reasons but maybe that is enough for now.
4 – Would it be as effective if it were instrumentalists instead of singers coming to people’s homes?
Maybe. I haven’t tested that yet. But then it wouldn’t be Operahjälpen, it would be Musikhjälpen. Actually, I think that there is something very particular about singing, and that it comes from a human voice. Opera is both at once elemental and highly trained. It has been a great privilege for me to work with these singers who have spent years and years training their diaphragm and larynx to produce this amazing sound. There is something about the opera voice that we can identify with, but untrained, cannot produce, and that is magical.
5 – Is this a project that has already been organised somewhere before or is it the first time?
This is the first time the project has been made. I have worked on projects in people’s homes before but not with opera.
6 – Why in Stockholm?
Part of what I love about my job is that I get to travel all over the world making different projects. When Mellika asked me to propose a piece for Folkoperan, I jumped at the chance. I’ve really enjoyed being in the beautiful city of Stockholm.