Opera ‘Goddesses’ come to Tel Aviv, bringing art form to ‘unordinary places’

‘Regarding Goddesses’ event on stage and street tells two tales, of wild woman and earth mother, led by a recent immigrant to Israel from Moscow

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

From rehearsals for 'Kundry,' an original opera created for the Regarding Goddesses arts festival launching in Tel Aviv on October 21, 2021 (Courtesy Alexey Kudrik)
From rehearsals for 'Kundry,' an original opera created for the Regarding Goddesses arts festival launching in Tel Aviv on October 21, 2021 (Courtesy Alexey Kudrik)

A new arts festival, “Regarding Goddesses,” will launch in Tel Aviv on October 21-23, investigating gender and power through two original, contemporary works of opera and classical music performed on stage and in city parks and streets.

It might be seen as brave to hold a festival revolving around opera and classical music, but festival founder and director Maria Nasimova has no qualms about any of it.

“It’s difficult, but it’s also the most impressive art form,” said Nasimova. “And if we’re talking about goddesses, let’s be honest, female opera characters suffer the most.”

That’s certainly true of the new work “Kundry,” named after the wild woman who appears in composer Richard Wagner’s final music drama “Parsifal.” The plot of “Kundry” moves between the personal life of a contemporary opera singer and Wagner’s Parsifal character, a role that has itself been interpreted by divas throughout operatic history.

But this “Kundry” won’t be singing any music composed by Wagner, known as a bigot, antisemite and misogynist.

“We didn’t choose Wagner, we chose the character,” said Nasimova. “It’s a way of delving deeper into the character; it was the most complicated, difficult character we could choose.”‘

From rehearsals for ‘Kundry,’ the original opera created for the Regarding Goddesses arts festival launching in Tel Aviv on October 21, 2021 (Courtesy Alexey Kudrik)

“Kundry” will be performed at the Israeli Opera on October 21 and 22.

The other performance is “A Message from Gaia,” depicting the mythic ancestral Greek mother figure through statements of seven Israeli women, set to music by seven female composers that was interpreted by music and dance students from the Jerusalem Academy of Music, who worked on the vocal piece with opera maker Anthony Heidweiller.

“A Message from Gaia” will be staged in parks and streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa on October 21-23.

Maria Nasimova, recent immigrant from Moscow to Israel, and founder of the Regarding Goddesses Festival, brining a new opera and vocal work to Tel Aviv, opening October 21, 2021 (Courtesy Maria Nasimova)

Nasimova, a recent immigrant to Israel from Moscow and the former chief curator at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in the Russian city, has always been interested in non-traditional cultural formats.

“I’m a curious person, that’s why I’m a curator,” she said. “I’m interested in putting things in unordinary places and seeing how it turns out.”

She admitted that encouraging younger audiences to listen to opera is an international challenge.

“You rarely meet people at opera festivals without gray hair,” she said, “Opera has to change a lot in itself and demonstrate itself in many different ways.”

It’s an expensive art form and complicated to digest, requiring pricey tickets and lengthy viewing times, which can be too much of a commitment for some. That’s why Nasimova decided to add the outdoor element.

“My thought was if people are not coming to us, we’ll come to them,” she said. “They’ll have no choice.”

She’s feeling lucky to have pulled off the festival, having moved to Israel during the summer while putting the festival together via Zoom calls for the last two years. She only met the team in person last week.

“It was difficult, but we live in a time of difficulty,” said Nasimova. “I appreciate artists and creators who have been brave enough to say, ‘Those crazy people are doing something, let’s follow them.'”

This is the first part of “Regarding Goddesses,” which includes other performances that will take place next year, in November 2022. These were postponed for now due to the pandemic.

The November 2022 portion will launch as a citywide festival featuring performances in dance, theater, opera, music, film and art in venues across Tel Aviv including the Cameri Theater, Suzanne Dellal Center, Midron Yafo Park and other outdoor locations.

Tickets to “Kundry” can be purchased online. The October 21 performance of “Kundry” at the Israeli Opera will also be broadcast and available for online viewing in November. Tickets for “A Message from Gaia” are free, but require registration through the website.

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