From March 24 to mid-May, the St. Petersburg Manege will be transformed into an impromptu opera house. Its space will be filled with exhibits of the exhibition “(In) mobility. Russian classical sculpture from Fedot Shubin to Alexander Matveyev ”and – at the same time – the sounds of classical operatic parts, selected especially for this project. Together, more than 150 sculptures (from the Tretyakov Gallery, the Hermitage, the Tsaritsyno State Museum, the Russian Museum and three dozen other Russian museum institutions) and fragments from 13 operas made up an integral concept, the task of which is to transfer the perception of classical sculpture from a conservative plane to an actual one. This synthesis of arts gives the viewer a little more freedom in the perception of works, curators believe, and at the same time helps to overcome the prevailing stereotype of sculpture as an archaic art form that is on the periphery of artistic interests.
For eyes and ears
The idea came up about three years ago. According to Manezh director and author of the project concept Pavel Prigara, the curatorial group immediately decided to abandon the use of any other visual images, except for sculpture, so there is no painting, graphics or photographs at the exhibition. But the collection of sculpture is really large-scale: the exhibition brings together the works of 65 Russian sculptors of the second half of the 18th – early 20th centuries. and among them are not only recognized masterpieces, but also works that have practically not been exhibited before, notes Elena Karpova, head of the sculpture department of the State Russian Museum. “It is thanks to this exhibition that they will go down in the history of Russian sculpture,” she said. In particular, among the exhibits – “Satyr and a nymph” by Peter Stavasser from the collection of the Scientific Research Museum at the Russian Academy of Arts, “Portrait of Pavel Samoilov as Hamlet” by Mikhail Blokh (St. Petersburg State Museum of Theater and Musical Art), “Portrait of Fyodor Tyutchev “by Sergei Ukhtomsky from the collection of IRLI (” Pushkin House “),” Philoctet “by Mikhail Kozlovsky (literary and art museum-estate” Priyutino “).
The opera director Vasily Barkhatov and the creative workshop “Tsirkul” were chosen to be responsible for the dialogue between the two arts – sculpture and opera. “I looked at sculptures as stage characters and decided which opera parts they could perform, while trying to stay in the era of creation in order to maximize the parallels between the development of world opera and Russian sculpture,” says the director. “Of course, any direction is very subjective, and someone, perhaps, will see completely different characters in these sculptures.”
As a result, in spite of the fact that only works by Russian sculptors will be presented in the Manege, it was decided not to be limited only to Russian operas. The operatic repertoire of the project includes Gounod’s Faust, Goffman’s Tales by Jacques Offenbach, Aida by Verdi, Manon Lescaut by Puccini, Dargomyzhsky’s Mermaid, Salome by Richard Strauss and other world classics.
Entering the exhibition, the viewer finds himself in the midst of frozen mise-en-scenes, where each sculptural character is assigned a specific operatic part, and the circumstances in which they find themselves are dictated by the operatic libretto and musical drama. For example, two hunched-over nude bodies in Naum Aronson’s “Grief” “perform” in the Manege the part of the cavalier Des Grieux and Manon in the final scene of the opera “Manon Lescaut” by Puccini, and “Actaeon Pursued by Dogs” by the sculptor Ivan Prokofiev “plays” Leporello in the opera Don Giovanni by Mozart.
Barkhatov worked with sculptures as with people. “This, in fact, was the point – to give the sculpture a voice and action. To create a musical space where the viewer, having considered the general mise-en-scene, crosses the fourth wall and gets the opportunity to hear each hero of the ensemble separately, – the director comments. “The difficulty was that both genres had a stable self-sufficient reputation in the head of the average man – a kind of excessive sophistication, beautiful convention and elitist academic boredom.”
An attempt to break these stereotypes led to the fact that the viewers of the Manege will not see the classical museum and theatrical space, but a modern architectural image inspired by both theater and opera. “There is no direct reference to classical drama in this project,” notes Prigara. – The selection of sculptures for the exhibition is self-valuable and absolutely academic. It took place long before the architectural concept was finally formed, and is not associated with new exposition techniques that are created at the exhibition. And it seems to me that the extremely respectful attitude of Barkhatov to the classical artistic heritage allowed us to combine the conservative attitude to art objects characteristic of traditional museums with modern exhibition solutions. “