January 14, 2021

Spotlight on Yuval Sharon

Over the past few years, you might have seen the name Yuval Sharon pop up in opera coverage in the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, Opera News, and other publications. You might have asked yourself, “Hmmm, what exactly is Hopscotch, A Mobile Opera in 24 Cars? And who came up with the idea?” Dubbed “opera’s disrupter in residence” by The New York Times, this acclaimed director has been making cultural waves since early in the new millennium and is making a splash with Lyric this season, as well.

During summer 2020, Lyric General Director, President & CEO Anthony Freud invited Sharon to be Lyric's Creative Catalyst in helping devise new and innovative programming. The Naperville native, a 2017 MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, was named the Gary L. Wasserman Artistic Director of Michigan Opera Theatre in September. He conceived and directed Twilight: Gods, a condensed and contemporary reimagining of the final opera in Wagner’s Ring cycle that takes place in a parking garage. Co-commissioned by Lyric and Michigan Opera Theatre, Twilight: Gods premiered triumphantly in October at the Detroit Opera House Parking Garage, with audience members driving from scene to scene. Lyric will present its Chicago premiere in April, again directed by Sharon.

Berg’s Wozzeck first sparked Sharon’s interest in opera during his college years at University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a B.A. in English and dramatic arts. Sharon then spent a year in Berlin, where his passion for opera grew. He subsequently moved to New York City,  founded a company called Theater Faction, and directed New York City Opera’s VOX program from 2006-09.

Soon after, Sharon moved to Los Angeles, where he became the founder and artistic director of The Industry, which has brought new and experimental opera into moving vehicles, operating train stations, Hollywood sound stages, and various “non-spaces,” as he calls them, such as warehouses, parking lots, and escalator corridors. Sharon conceived, directed, and produced the company’s acclaimed world premieres of Sweet Land, Hopscotch, Invisible Cities, and Crescent City, as well as the performance installations In C at the Hammer Museum and Nimbus at Walt Disney Concert Hall. 

The first American ever invited to direct at the Bayreuth Festival, Sharon distinguished himself with a boldly progressive Lohengrin in 2018, using subtle direction to completely overhaul the opera into a critique of entrenched power structures. This type of innovation is second nature to Yuval, and he has repeatedly propelled opera into 21st-century culture. From 2016-19, Sharon was the first Artist-in-Residence at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, creating nine projects that included newly commissioned works, site-specific installations, and performances outside the hall. His residency culminated in a major revival of Meredith Monk’s opera ATLAS, making him the first director Monk entrusted with a new production of her work. 

Sharon received the 2014 Götz Friedrich Prize in Germany for his production of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic, originally produced at the Staatstheater Karlsruhe and later presented in Seville's Teatro de la Maestranza. His 2016 production of Peter Eötvös's Three Sisters at the Vienna State Opera led Opernwelt to call him "one of the most interesting arrivals on the musical landscape." He also directed a landmark production of John Cage’s Song Books at the San Francisco Symphony and Carnegie Hall with Joan La Barbara, Meredith Monk, and Jessye Norman. His production of Cunning Little Vixen, originally produced at the Cleveland Orchestra, was the first fully staged opera ever presented in Vienna’s Musikverein in October 2017. Also that year, Yuval was honored with a MacArthur Fellowship and a Foundation for Contemporary Art grant for theater.

Twilight: Gods production at Michigan Opera Theatre.

In Sharon’s own words, his view of opera and his work in opera are “characterized by instability and the pleasure in complexity....Instability is fundamental to an opera's construction, with its three levels of potential meaning—via music, text, and visual realization—vying for dominance.” He goes on to say that “opera offers a complex way of seeing and hearing that I consider refreshing. Unusual ways of listening and viewing challenge us—but that challenge is a pleasure, because that complexity has the potential to expand our senses and transform our assumed view of the world.”

Yuval Sharon's embrace of new approaches and his reputation for artistic innovation strike the perfect note in a world where arts organizations are compelled to be more flexible and imaginative than ever before. 

Art for Lyric's upcoming Twilight: Gods production.

Audience members, from the safety of their own vehicle, will be immersed in the production of Twilight: Gods this April/May. Live performances, video elements, and installations will all be a part of the experience as patrons drive through the Millennium Park garage "stage." Each of the chosen scenes from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung are linked together and recontextualized, with translation from Sharon and text/narration from Chicago interdisciplinary artist avery r. young, making this story unique to its time and place.

Learn more about Twilight: Gods and how to reserve tickets at lyricopera.org/twilight-gods/.

Photos: Mitty Carter, Casey Kringle, Lyric Opera of Chicago