Sun 28 Apr 2013
This posting comes instead of two reviews I would usually write about two performances I saw a week one from the other in Tel Aviv. One is a theater play ‘Az BePrag’ (‘Then in Prague’) by Hilel Mitelpunkt at the Beit Lessin. The second is Verdi’s ‘Otello’ on the stage of the New Israeli Opera. Hilel Mittelpunkt’s well written play is an intrigue of love, friendship, treason and deception set in the year of Israel’s independence and the two following decades. It even has a small dose of a spy story, added atop of the post-Holocaust drama lived by all principal characters. Otello‘s production is quite typical for what the Israeli opera offered most of the time in the last few seasons – a sumptuous staging taken over from an European Opera house, interesting sets, beautiful costumes, but mediocre musical interpretation with one soloist exception or maybe two, with the orchestra playing too loud and the singers not being hear loud enough, but this is probably a chronic problem of acoustics in this opera hall we need to learn to live with.
None of the two is really bad. Actually both of them are average (the opera) and even average plus (the play). And this is actually what is worrisome for me, and led me to put on the blog these thoughts. Because during both representations I felt too many times bored, and at the end I came to question my renewing of the respective subscriptions for the next season (well, it’s too late for the Opera, but not for Beit Lessin).
The problem is in my view first of all in the selection of the repertoire. Beit Lessin (as all other mainstream theaters) have a standard repertoire which balances Israeli original plays who look so much one as the other and all like the TV dramas we can see for free on TV, imports from Broadway or East End, Greek tragedies, Shakespeare and Chekhov, and a few adaptation to stage of classical European Jewish literary works. If you add the musicals you get how 90% of the repertoire of any mainstream theater in Israel looks like.
Now let us take the opera program. All performances I have seen this season were operas that I had seen at least once in the past of the stage of the New Israeli Opera. All were 19th century composers works with one exception which was early 20th century. All stagings were imported from European opera houses, and the majority of the singers in the main roles were 2nd hand singers from the international circuits.
Are there alternatives? Of course there are! The Israeli selection of plays can be much more daring, challenging the consensus, as the Israeli theater did in the past but seems to have given up doing nowadays. The contemporary international repertoire can be much more diverse, Broadway needs not be the only place where Israeli theaters look for inspiration, the international non-English or French repertoire should be also researched. There is much more interesting theater going on off-Broadway nowadays, or on the European scenes, or in the festivals. Even on the Israeli non-mainstream stages.
The Israeli spectators can watch almost daily operas on Mezzo TV and see what the big opera houses are bringing on stage nowadays – from Baroque operas to the late 20th century and even contemporary composers. What about the Israeli works? One original opera every five years is a lamentable average. Dare I say what about Wagner? I understand that the NIO cannot afford paying big opera stars for every performance, but don’t we really deserve to see and listen at least once a season to Anna Netrebko or Angela Gheorghiu or their likes? The rest of the time I would suggest that they rather give the opportunity to the young Israeli singers to sing the lead roles and not to the 2nd hand international singers who are brought here all the time.
Certainly, there is a reason for the lack of vision and the fear of daring of the leadership of the two theaters. The subsidies from the state were seriously cut, and the theaters and the opera are on their own, or depending on sponsors. The halls fill only if you answer the public requests. But is the public really that conservative? Nobody can say in the absence of alternate programing. Experience from other places in the world shows that building a more diversified set of options in the repertory not only prepares the future but also can succeed commercially. It also offers more and different experiences to the actors, the singers, the stage directors, the musicians including the young ones. Stagnation will eventually lead to the mainstream theaters being deserted by knowledgeable audiences, in favor of new options who will surge from the peripheries, in the spirit of free enterprise and creation, or in favor of other forms of recreation and spending of the free time. I am one of those who have prepared their suitcases and I am looking for alternate sources.