Moments of absolute silence are a rarity in life. David Leventi knows that all too well. Upon the stages of some of the world’s most renowned opera houses, the American photographer experienced the kind of quiet moments few of us will ever be privy to. Staring through the lens of a large-format camera over the course of eight years, he painstakingly documented the architectural essence of over 40 opera houses across the globe. Stretching four continents and nineteen countries, Leventi’s photographs are visual time capsules, a celebration of these venerated halls throughout the ages.
Teatro di Villa Aldrovandi, Mazzacorati Bologna, Italy, 2014
David Leventi: Opera features a foreword by legendary Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, an engrossing essay written by American curator-writer Marvin Heiferman. and historical overviews of each opera house by exhibition curator and author Thomas Mellins. More than a mere typology of opera houses, his monograph celebrates the vibrant cultures of their various cities, as well as the creative legacy their architects, lighting, and textile designers have left behind. “Throughout the whole history of opera, the idea of these places was to be a social event, a social gathering place," Leventi says. "People liked to see and be seen. It was less about what was going on onstage and more about what was going on in the audience.” Over the course of four centuries, the world has changed little in that regard.
Palais Garnier, Paris, France, 2009
Leventi chose a handful of famous opera houses (The Met, La Scala, Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, Palais Garnier in Paris, Teatro Colón in Argentina), some designed by star architects (Auditorio de León, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Oslo Opera House, the Guangzhou in China), and those he lovingly calls “jewel boxes, built as part of a palace” (L'Opéra Royal de Versailles and Teatro Communal di Bologna). From The Paris Opera’s dazzling ceiling artwork, painted by Marc Chagall in 1964, to the uniquely kitschy decor of the Amargosa Opera House in Death Valley Junction, California—which strangely enough, is connected with a hotel—each new location offered some intriguing story behind the grand red curtains.
Palau de les Arts Reine Sofía, Valencia, Spain, 2014
When asked about his favorite location, Leventi immediately brings up Teatro La Fenice in Venice (pictured, first photo from the top). “It fits into the camera so well compositionally,” he says. “It's not a huge opera house, and it’s not small. It's intimate in a special way I can't quite pin down. The color palette is beautiful, and the city in which it’s located is magical. It’s got everything going for it.”
Guangzhou Opera House, Guangzhou, China
For Leventi, this pictorial journey was a way to honor the memory of his maternal grandfather, a classically-trained, tenor cantor. It also gave him an opportunity to pay tribute to the designers of these hallowed halls, to the musicians and the artists, both on and off stage. Standing front and center, where countless singers have performed for centuries, his breathtaking photographs reflect the affluence and artistry of every nation. They capture the history of an art form that continues to evolve beyond the chandeliers and lavish interiors. Leventi has said that “these buildings breathe”, and in the stillness of these immense rooms, like ghostly imprints of the past, the music plays on.
David Leventi: Opera (Published by Damiani and available in hardcover on June 1, 2015. Available for pre-order now.)
Teatro Regio, Turin, Italy, 2010