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It’s a fair bet this is the first time Nadja Auermann has been asked to straddle a stuffed pantomime horse, wear fake armor and brandish a cardboard sword for a photo shoot. But then, for one of Germany’s most important opera houses to use a former supermodel to publicize Wagner, Puccini and Strauss is far from an everyday event.
This is exactly what the Deutsche Oper Berlin has decided to do in a bid to make opera more attractive to a younger crowd. “I personally love the idea of opera being more democratized,” explains Auermann, who is working on the project free of charge, “even though I know a lot of traditional operagoers will probably hate the thought of people from lots of different backgrounds coming.”
Auermann, whose grandmother was a professional singer in Berlin, is certainly no stranger to opera. She saw her first production at age four, and as a teenager completed an internship at the Deutsche Oper Berlin with the hopes of becoming a costume designer. Paris lured her away to become one of the key models of the Nineties, but she remains fascinated by opera. “I still think that costume design must be amazing. Possibly even better than designing fashion. You can just let your fantasy run riot, without having to worry about whether it will be sold,” she says.
In the publicity campaign, which was shot by Berlin fashion photographer André Rival, Auermann poses as the protagonist of four operas to be performed this season. As Bizet’s Carmen, Auermann looks wanton in a skintight red PVC top; she poses as Venus from Wagner’s Tannhäuser in absolutely nothing at all. Rival places a saucy-looking Helen of Troy in the opera house’s modernist elevator, while the season kicks off with Auermann as Puccini’s Japanese princess Turandot, coyly balancing a delicate pink parasol in one hand with a savage samurai-style sword in the other.
“I view fashion photography also as a kind of art form,” Auermann explains, when asked about the connection between modeling and opera. “Clothes for me are a means of self-expression, so when I do a fashion shoot, I try to feel what the designer is trying to say. Fashion shots try to tell a story.”