Opera. It’s an art that’s considered old school and high culture. To truly appreciate it, you have to know a thing or two about classical music, or study up on the story and its history.
As such, it’s a tough sell for younger audiences. But what sells better than sex?
To promote the premiere of its rendition of Puccini’s Turandot, Swedish opera house Folkoperan worked with agency Ingo Stockholm to release what’s been bluntly labeled “The Opera of Orgasms.” No words minced here: That’s exactly what you get.
For those new to opera, this isn’t as surprising a connection as one might think. Opera is riddled with tales of unchecked desire, vengeance and tragic death. Elevating its more relatable qualities isn’t new either. Last year, the Paris Opera tapped Bret Easton Ellis to give us “Figaro,” a story as modern and debauched as you can get without paying red-light prices.
And Turandot is especially apt for this kind of interpretation. First released in 1926, it recounts the tale of Princess Turandot, whose admirers forfeit their lives if they answer her riddles wrong. It sounds like an iffy risk, but Turandot is herself so desirable that her suitors, addled with lust, would rather die than live without her.
“We live in a society where we’re constantly encouraged to indulge life, but it’s often in very superficial ways,” observes Mellika Melouani Melani, the director and artistic director at Folkoperan. “In our interpretation of the opera, we want to pay tribute to the urge of desire and the total devotion that comes with it. In our film, the orgasm symbolizes this.”
In the film, people in various—not necessarily glamorous—sexual situations express their climax to the tune of the Nessun Dorma aria. It’s a celebration of boundless desire, that moment when you’re so close to cresting that things like context, expectation and social norms no longer matter. And it beautifully mirrors the state Turandot’s admirers find themselves in, one in which the proximity of pleasure is so painful that nothing matters more than finding release, not even oblivion.
“Having an orgasm might actually be the closest you and I get to singing opera,” Ingo creative director Josefine Richards wryly observes. “Both are big physical experiences that release endorphins and oxytocin. Such extreme power and total focus of energy is rare today.”
Folkoperan itself is a small opera house that hopes to introduce the art to new, more diverse audiences. Last year, it worked with Ingo to create “The Most Unsuccessful Ticket Sampling,” which won a bronze Lion in the Direct category at Cannes. Ingo also created the lauded “Swedish Number” campaign for Sweden’s Tourist Association.
Turando premieres on Sept. 18 and 20, with two casts at Folkoperan in Stockholm. It will run through Nov. 26.