Born out of lockdown, United Arts Studies is a six-part video series presented by soprano Elizaveta Ulakhovich and baritone Perry Sook. Within each episode, the couple explores links between famous operas and works of art.
The aim is simple: to unite the arts, as the title suggests. Ulakhovich and Sook say that they want “to educate and inspire people of all ages to enjoy and seek out different types of art”.
The set-up is such that the viewer follows two young opera singers who, having found themselves with a lot of extra time on their hands due to lockdown, enrol on an online art history course. In each episode we learn about a painter and one or two composers; the discussions are mixed with performances of operatic arias, connecting the musical and visual arts.
The first episode – What You Choose – looks at Frida Kahlo and two works by Handel: Giulio Cesare (1724) and Berenice (1737). The hosts argue that Kahlo can be seen in the characters of the tragic Cleopatra in the former and triumphant Demetrio in the latter, demonstrating the opposing elements of despair and hope in Kahlo’s life.
It features Ulakhovich singing Cleopatra’s lament ‘Piangerò la sorte mia’ (‘Hope, no more this heart sustaining’) and Sook performing Demetrio’s ‘Si, tra i ceppi’ (‘Yes, even in chains’). The performances are interspersed with images of Kahlo’s works, photographs of the artist and shots from productions of both operas; captions would have made these more informative.
Episode two – What You Desire – concentrates on the paintings of Gustav Klimt. It offers the opportunity to explore the portrayal of women in both opera and art, this time using two of Mozart’s great masterpieces: Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (Women are Like That, 1790).
Sook sings ‘Madamina, il catalogo è questo’ (‘My dear lady, this is the list’) from the former, a comic account of the title character’s numerous romantic conquests, with Ulakhovich performing ‘Come Scoglio’ (‘Like a rock’) from the latter to demonstrate the constancy of women in love.
Episodes are released on a monthly basis, with the third – What You Feel – set to premiere in two days’ time on 27 August. It looks at the artworks of Botticelli. Episode four features Dalí and will be available from 24 September. There are six episodes in total; details of the remaining two are yet to be released.
It feels forced at times, but this is an interesting concept and the two hosts are very watchable. The singing is beautiful and Ulakhovich particularly has that ‘can’t take your eyes off her’ quality. I’ve set myself a personal reminder to go and see her if and when she next performs in the UK.
This is a fun and light-hearted way to look at both art and opera. It draws some fascinating connections between the two artforms which may well inspire viewers to think more deeply or at least differently about both. And you might even learn something new along the way.
• Available from: United Arts Studios and YouTube
• Hosted by: Elizaveta Ulakhovic and Perry Sook
• Length: about 16 minutes
• Frequency: monthly; six episodes in total
• Find out more: United Arts Studios website, Instagram and Facebook
An original take on themes that can be found in both opera and the visual arts; it’s entertaining and fun and offers a new way of looking at both artforms.