by Joshua Sofaer
Can the power of song help us look at a problem in a new way?
Are you lovesick 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?
Opera Helps is a site specific art project in which professional opera singers visit people in the comfort of their own homes, and sing to them – one to one. It harnesses the redemptive power of opera to help with participant’s personal problems. Unlike therapy, or a trip to the doctor, it doesn’t aim to cure the problem – but past participants have found the experience deeply affecting and have felt that their private space feels different afterwards.
The project is the creation of artist Joshua Sofaer. As a passionate opera enthusiast, Joshua found that listening to opera had a direct emotional impact on him. It reached his heart and core very quickly, had a very positive effect on his mood and he came away refreshed. Joshua sees Opera Helps as a way of introducing new audiences to his passion as well as demonstrating the transformative power of song.
‘Historically opera was always a popular art form,’ says Joshua. ‘Even 50 years ago hairdressers in Italy would sing arias as they worked. Yet now it is seen as something highbrow, for the rich and highly educated, inaccessible to most people. By relocating opera to the home and relating it to personal problems I truly think we can introduce people to the music who wouldn’t otherwise have given it a chance.’
Taking part in Opera Helps is an intimate and personal experience. People who have a problem – it can be anything that they find worrying – apply to book a session and an opera singer then visits their home. The singer listens attentively to the participant’s description of their troubles, and then selects a suitable aria to sing. The power of the voice in the domestic space creates an intense and moving experience; the participant hears music in an unfamiliar way, encouraging them to listen attentively, while focussing and reflecting on their individual problem.
This is the first time Opera Helps has been presented in the UK. It previously took place in Stockholm, Sweden where Joshua developed the project after being invited to work with the Folkoperan opera house. For the UK it is produced by participatory art specialists Wunderbar.
Anyone in the participating areas (see below) can apply for an Opera Helps slot. An online application form can be found at www.operahelps.com and each regional partner organisation will also have links for applications. Alternatively applicants can call 07783 340789. If it’s felt that Opera Helps can meet the applicant’s needs, an appointment will be made for a professional opera singer to visit their home, listen to the problem and select an aria that relates to the problem. The aria will be sung to the participant as they relax in their most comfortable chair, or even in their bed.
Opera Helps lasts about 30 minutes. It is completely free.
A pool of 9 professional singers are being specially trained by Joshua (an accredited Relational Dynamics coach) to listen appropriately and not to offer advice or counselling but to empathise and to ask simple, open questions. The selected singers range from experienced English National Opera and Wexford singers to recent graduates early in their careers.
‘We love working with Joshua.’ says Ilana Mitchell, Wunderbar’s Artistic Director. ‘Opera Helps fits perfectly with our portfolio of audience-led work in unusual spaces – and he’s an outstanding artist producing work which, on the surface appears deceptively simple, but is transformative, carrying extraordinary depth and attention to detail.’
Opera Helps listings info:
March 17, 19, 20 Tyne & Wear performances (applications open 24 February)
April 1, 2 Durham performances (applications open 24 February)
April 15, 16 Northumberland performances (applications open 24 February)
April 20-24 Heart of Glass Festival, St Helens performances (applications open 14 March)
April 29-30 Teesside performances (applications open 24 February)
May 6-8 Colchester performances (applications open 14 March)
May 13-22 Norfolk & Norwich Festival performances (applications open 4 April)
May 29-30 Tyne & Wear performances (applications open 25 April)
All performances take place in participant’s homes.
Opera Helps lines (07783 340789) will be open Tuesdays 11am – 5pm and Thursdays 12pm – 8pm. Messages can be left outside these times for calls to be returned.
Opera Helps by Joshua Sofaer is produced by Wunderbar a ‘playfully disruptive’ art project that takes audiences on ‘journeys of intrigue and wonder’. It is presented in partnership with Heart of Glass, Colchester Arts Centre and Norfolk & Norwich Festival and in association with OperaCoast.
It is funded by Arts Council England.
Opera Helps was originally commissioned by Folkoperan, Stockholm.
Media Contact: Steve Forster, sfp communications ltd 01603 661459 07939 221192 firstname.lastname@example.org