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Designing a Fantasy: Yuval Sharon Directs His First Exhibition

Yuval Sharon | Photos by Susie Goodman

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage is LACMA’s whimsical exhibition of costumes and set designs created by the great artist Marc Chagall (learn more about Chagall and the pieces on display). The look and feel of the show — full of color, sound, and movement — comes courtesy of Yuval Sharon, founder of The Industry, an LA-based contemporary opera company known for inventive productions like the car-based opera Hopscotch.

I spoke with Sharon at LACMA about bringing Fantasies to life.

Sheila Tepper: When you were first asked to design this show, what did you plan?

Yuval Sharon: Well my first response was “why me?”, because I’ve never designed an exhibit. Stephanie Barron’s curatorial work was done impeccably, so my responsibility was to put myself in the position of an audience member encountering this for the first time without the knowledge a curator would have. I thought about what could make the experience of moving through the exhibit delightful and joyous, and get to the heart of what is on display. I wanted it to have an almost immersive quality. I think that’s especially true in The Magic Flute part, where we designed extra, small platforms so that the costumes and characters seem to spring out of the proscenium.

ST: It really takes your breath away when you enter and see all the color.

YS: The colors are all so extraordinary, to me that’s one of the things that marks Chagall as such an important artist: color as experience, color as its own thing. For each of the four productions on display—Aleko, The Firebird, Daphnis and Chloe and The Magic Flute—he designed the costumes and the backdrops, so each production was like a total work of art. He was trying to create this full, three-dimensional experience. I thought it was really important for this presentation at LACMA to maintain the integrity of these costumes with their backdrops.

So many of his paintings feel like they’re animated and I think that’s what made him such a great designer for the stage. They’re not pieces that are statuesque but have a sense of motion and fluidity and I wanted to make sure that was visceral to a visitor and that each of the four productions have a unified, but slightly different presentation.

Costumes for “The Magic Flute”

ST: And they were created at different times in his life and in different cities. Do you think the man himself comes through?

YS: Absolutely. To me he comes through probably the strongest in The Magic Flute. The unity between imagination and the work itself feels completely connected in a way that’s so powerful and makes you think “I wish I could have been there” about this 50 year old production.

ST: Mozart was his favorite composer.

YS: Right and I think you can tell. All four of the productions on display here show a tremendous amount of love of the music. I see those costumes and I hear the music, and I think people who already know the scores will have a similar response. I wanted to help the audience make that synesthetic connection. Chagall’s granddaughters, who are here, said don’t just look with your eyes, look with your ears. The costumes do have music in them and letting them sing was a key part of how the exhibit was put together.

Chagall’s granddaughters attending the opening

ST: I should say congratulations. You’re going to be the first American to direct at the Bayreuth Festival. Is there a link between anything we see in this exhibit and what your dream might be in Bayreuth.

YS: Actually, there is a really strong link, because what Chagall is doing here is what Wagner called gesamtkunstwerk, which is the total work of art. The idea that you are creating a whole universe—the sound and the vision and the architecture is one entity. That’s something Wagner really strived for and an aesthetic ideal that I think Chagall was very sympathetic to.

Costumes for “Daphnis and Chloe”

The other connection for me with what’s going to happen in Bayreuth is that I’ll be working with two amazing visual artists, Neo Rauch and Rosa Loy, who live in Germany and are designing an opera for the first time. So my work with them feels like what it would have been like if I was directing an opera with Chagall designing the sets—it’s that sense of a new imagination that allows for unexpected images to emerge. You get that in this exhibit and in the engagement I’ve already had with Neo and Rosa preparing for Lohengrin in Bayreuth.

Written by:
Sheila Tepper
Sheila Tepper
Published on 08.19.2017