opera


Giacomo Casanova, the great lover of the 18th century and maybe of all centuries does not stop to inspire creators. The first of them was of course himself, with the life he led and with the memoirs that he had wrote. Many other followed, starting with Mozart until the film makers of the 20th and 21th century. The latest is the 2014 Casanova Variations – an ambitious piece of art film co-written and directed by which looks at his last days. Was he tired of the endless search and conquests of women? Did he have any remorse concerning the broken hearts and broken lives that he left behind? Who was him after all? A genius turning love affairs into art, or one of the manifestations of evil?

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2614400

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2614400

 

You need not be concerned about Casanova Variations being too serious or too dry in dealing with these issues. It is actually conceived as a performance in a film, the staging of an imaginary opera called ‘The Giacomo Variations’ which is filmed and photographed live, describing the final days of the life of the great heart-breaker (), retired as a librarian in the Dux Castle in Bohemia to write his memoirs, and receiving the visit of a mysterious woman ( – maybe a forgotten lover, maybe a publisher trying to steal the manuscript which tells about his adventures. The story on stage triggers the rendition on screen of the story in the past, and the whole film alternates past and present, life and theater, music and acting, the real life heroes, the actors, singers, and the audience in the opera house. Actors and heroes become one big ensemble and the whole show an elegant dance of the imagination based on the music of Mozart (mostly). It’s entertaining, but this is not everybody’s kind of entertainment and part of the viewers of the film risk to be surprised and confused.

 

(video source Filmladen Filmverleih)

 

Any movie in which John Malkovich is on screen has the potential to become not only a movie with John Malkovich but also a movie about John Malkovich. Casanova Variations is no exception and the role of Casanova merges with the role of the actor who acts as Casanova on stage enabling the permanent games of transition between the two threads of action, between imagination and reality, between the heroes and the actors. In one memorable sequence the actor – singer seems to collapse on stage and a real physician in the audience jumps to help, just to discover that she herself became now part of the show. It’s just one of the many jewels that combine art and life in this film. I also need to mention Veronica Ferres who gives Malkovich a superb replica in a role that seems to gather the power and dangers in the many women Casanova knew in his life.Those who love film, theater, opera, history and the combination of these will find many reasons of joy in this film, which may not solve the mystery of Casanova but makes good refined entertainment out of it.

 

 

Un ballo in Maschera has a very convoluted history. Created in the years that preceded the unification and independence of Italy, the opera was originally written as a regicide plot based on the historical facts of the assassination of king Gustav III of Sweden in the 17th century. The very fact that a king was supposed to be assassinated on stage made the opera unpalatable for the censorship in Austrian-occupied Venezia, in the Bourbon kingdom of Napoli and in the church-dominated Rome. Three re-writings later the opera eventually premiered in 1858 on the very eve of the revolutionary movements that led to the creation of Italy, but it was now a completely different story. The historical drama with revolutionary hints turned into a passionate and tragic love triangle story with the national elements eliminated and the political allusions very deeply buried in the subtext. Polish director Micha Znaniecki tried in the production now staged at the New Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv to recover the political dimensions and I have mixed feelings about the result.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/

 

The cast at the current Israeli production has basically two teams, and I was lucky enough to be present at the first performance of the ‘Romanian cast’. All three lead roles were sung by singers from Romania. Baritone Ionut Pascu already sang in Tel Aviv, he may not have impressive natural skills but his voice is expressive and carefully dosed and he was a fine Renato. Soprano Mirela Gradinaru was also a guest and lead singer on the Tel Aviv stage before and on this occasion she succeeded a more than honorable version of Ammelia. Best of all was however tenor Cristian Mogosan who faced with bravery and success the role of Riccardo which was mastered in the past by names as great as Domingo or Pavarotti. He was without any doubt the star of the evening. Shiri Hershkovitz also had a remarkable and creative performance as Oscar the page. She is born in Israel, but her name may also be of Romanian origin :-)

 

(video source IsraeliOpera)

 

These were the good news. The very bad news was the orchestra, and I need to mention Italian conductor Daniele Calegari who ‘succeeded’ to get the worst of an orchestra which I confess did not earn too much respect from me in the last 20 plus years since I have to follow it. When it was not stridently loud it hardly could be heard. The overture was one of the less inspired opening pieces I heard lately. The musicians seemed bored after the first three accords.

The staging was controversial at best in my opinion. Yes, I know the history of the opera but there is too little political content in the text and especially in the music to justify the explicit statements made by the staging. Big statues of dictators seem to be the fashion of the year or of the years on opera stages in Europe, but the disconnect between the music and what happened on stage was huge. Yes, decors were (again) spectacular, and the costumes were inspired as well (the team that created those is Polish). Opera is however – at least in my opinion – first of all about music, not about staging. Not even the Romanian team of singers obliged to perform in such unsettling environment could save the evening.

 

 

 

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.

 

source http://www.haaretz.co.il/gallery/lastnight/1.1973494

source http://www.haaretz.co.il/gallery/lastnight/1.1973494

 

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.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=502&ArticleID=1555

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=502&ArticleID=1555

 

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.

2013 marks two centuries since the birth of Giuseppe Verdi and the opera lovers all over the world will see a lot of staging of his operas in the current season. The New Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv is no exception with three new stagings scheduled until the end of the season. The first one is the lesser known Luisa Miller.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/eng/

 

Luisa Miller is based a romantic drama by Friedrich Schiller, although the German background of the story stops more or less here and in some of the names of the characters. It’s a story of love and passion, of treason and social passion, with an ending that reminds Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The difficulty of some of the parts in the musical score may be one of the reasons this opera is less popular, because otherwise it has all the dramatic qualities as well as a number of very beautiful musical sections that allows it to be compared and comparable with the best known works of the composer.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/ViewImage.asp?Image=http://www.israel-opera.co.il/_uploads/imagesgallery/luisab%281%29.jpg

 

The staging at the Tel Aviv Opera is a revival of a classical staging by director Gotz Friedrich (1030-2000) and uses sets from the Berlin Deutsche Oper. I did not resonate to well with some of the directorial ideas, the combination between the chess table floor and the painted Alps landscape in the background did not make too much sense to me, neither the usage of commedia dell’arte clowns as filling actors. Fortunately it was the musical performance that was above average this time. The orchestra always sounds better when conducted by Daniel Oren, and so it did now. Luisa Miller was sang so well by American soprano Leah Crocetto that she made me forget regretting having missed the Romanian Aurelia Florian, and Ionut Pascu was superb (vocally and as stage presence) as her father.

 

(video source greatartists)

 

Researching a little for famous recordings available on the Internet allowed me an interesting comparison between two ot the greatest tenors ever. First is a version (sung in concert, only with piano) of one of the most beautiful areas by Pavarotti.

 

(video source Gobrias)

 

Now you can compare Pavarotti’s version with Domingo’s. Here is the first act of the opera as staged in London in 1979 with Katia Ricciarelli and Placido Domingo.

The new season at the Israeli opera started with tremors before the first aria was sung. Financial pressures led to last minute changes in the program of the season, including the cancelling of the traditional end-of-season grand finale at Masada, and the postponing of another more expensive (and interesting) staging with a more conventional choice. Yet, the program has still some highlights that make me curious and the first choice – Alban Berg’s Wozzeck – was already out of the beaten path. Opening the season with a 20th century work, based on a social and political drama involves risks. Already put on stage in 2005, this new version is directed by Manfred Beilharz, a well-known opera director with many well received operas put on German and European stages.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=502&ArticleID=1544

 

The performance enhances the belief that some of the more interesting theater in the last few years in Israel can be found on the stage of the New Israel Opera. Beilharz’s Wozzeck is a modern staging directed with cinematographic pace in very efficient sets that separate segments of the space visible to the audience in well positioned visual effects. His directing focuses mostly on the psychology of the characters and the relations between them, and less on the social or political comment which was perobably the more important aspect in versions starting with the premiere which took place in the effervescent Germany of 1925.

 

(video source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=502&ArticleID=1544)

 

From a musical point of view there are no dramatic changes from the previous seasons. The distribution pattern of young Israeli sopranos and imported tenors is being preserved also in this version of ‘Wozzeck’. English tenor Julian Tovey was a solid but not brilliant Woyzzeck, while Israeli soprano Merav Barnea proved both vocal and dramatic skills giving to her Maria not only quality of voice but also sensuality and fragility. Daniel Cohen conducted this last performance of this opera on Friday afternoon, but all the other performances were conducted by David Stern. The opera house was only half full, and this is a pity in my opinion, because this non-conventional opening of season would have deserved more audience. Those who stayed home were the losers.

The Israeli Opera production of Lucia di Lammermoor was for me a wonderful opportunity to meet again not only with one of my preferred scores in the opera repertory but with the very first opera I have seen on stage.This must have been 46-47 years ago at the opera in Bucharest, I should ask my mother if she remembers the performance, but I certainly did not forget it, as it was the beginning of a life-long love story for the genre, for the music received directly from singers and orchestra, for the passion, emotions, joy and sorrow that can be lived only with the singers and the audience under the same roof. I had seen another performance of the opera in the 90s, and now it’s my third time. It’s wonderful music certainly, but for me it’s much more. You hardly forget a first time!

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=423&ArticleID=1301


Gaetano Donizetti was at the pick of his popularity in 1835 when this opera was premiered. He was actually the most popular composer in Italy after the period of Rossini and Bellini and a couple of decades before the appearance of Verdi who will dominate the Italian opera in the second half of the 20th century. The combination of romantic drama (melodrama actually) and patriotic themes that forms the subject of the opera attracted and energized the audiences and made it at success starting with the premiere in Naples and the French version first presented in Paris in 1839. The beauty of the music made it a long term success brought back since the mid of the 20th century by great sopranos on the world stages.

 

(video source ioSonoCallas)

 

We had the chance last night to sit near a lady who had lived in New York City and had seen several versions of this opera and many other performances of the great artists of the genre. We discussed among other about Maria Callas, so I was happy to find the version of the Mad Scene sung by the greatest diva of all times, to be compared with a recent one of Anna Netrebko. This scene is a complex and dramatic area, testing the musical and dramatic qualities of the sopranos, as well as the talent to improvise and add of their own personality.

 

(video source coloraturafan)

 

The performance in Tel Aviv last night was directed by Emilio Sagi originally for the Opera House in Oviedo, Spain. An interesting decision was to cut off the performance completely the first scene in the third act, which added to the fact that the break came after the first two acts let the second part much shorter than the first one and increased the weight of the Mad Scene in the overall dramatic development. It also left the responsibility of the musical impression on the lead soprano singing Lucia which last night was Laura Claycomb – she did fine most of the time, acted very well, and had very few moments of harshness in the high notes that kept her apart a really great performance. She was seconded by the Israeli Ayala Zimbler who seems to have great qualities and I would love to see one day as Lucia. Boaz Daniel as Enrico and Francisco Corujo as Edgardo did the good jobs that I expected, with the orchestra conducted by Yishai Steckler making me regret at some moments that I did not catch one of the evenings when Daniel Oren conducted. Overall a good performance, and for reasons beyond pure nostalgia.

I know that the program of the opera season must be established years in advance, so it must be a happy coincidence to see ‘The Rise and the Fall of the City of Mahagonny’ set in Tel Aviv at the New Israeli Opera in an original staging directed by Omri Nitzan, one of the best directors of classical theater in Israel, and also the author of several successful performances on the stage of the local opera. The subject of the libretto written by Bertoldt Brecht with its strong anti-Capitalist message sounds more than actual after the summer of the tents and of social discontent that crossed Europe and the whole world and did not spare Israel either.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/eng/?CategoryID=423&ArticleID=1299

 

Yes, the text is more actual than ever in 2011 and 2012, but for me it receives a double significance here in Israel, which it seems to me did not escape director Nitzan, as the motto about the city of Mahagonny existing because the evils of the world around applies up to a certain point to the country we live in. The merge of music, danse, theater and cabaret that is specific to the works of Brecht and Weil create the premises of modern and attractive show, and the staging in Tel Aviv was up to the expectations.

 

(video source OperaOfTheYear)

 

Israel is not the only opera house which found fit to stage Brecht and Weil’s work this year, here is a promo of the version which was broadcast by Mezzo – and also entered the contest of the best operas of 2011 in Europe – put on stage at the Royal Theatre in Madrid.

 

(video source chocolateheroine)

 

On the lighter side, here is a version of one of the best known songs in the opera – ‘Alabama Song’ sung by … David Bowie

 

(video source IsraeliOpera)

 

Here are conductor David Stern and director Omri Nitzan talking about the work and the production. Director Nitzan added to the melting pot of arts that is ‘Mahagonny’ cinema and television, and this worked well and gave a dynamic and contemporary touch to the whole screening. The NIO version of the City of Mahagonny is a City of Sin that can blossom in any Capitalist desert. German singer Wolfgang Schwaninger and Swiss soprano Neomi Nedelman gave good performances in the principal roles, and David Stern directed the orchestra in a way that was both exact and fun. The side turn taken by the Israeli Opera relative aside from its classical repertoire was successful.

The last few decades of the 19th century in Italy must the time and the place for the fans of opera. Verdi was the national hero and his opera greater than life were making an international career after having brought up the spirits of the nation during the revolutionary years. Opera houses were built in all the important cities of Italy, and small companies were traveling to the most remote places making out of the genre a popular entertainment. In this atmosphere of effervescence a popular contest was hold in 1883, and then repeated a few years later for a one act popular opera inspired from the contemporary reality and easier to stage and perform for the wider audiences. The winner out of the 73 entries was ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ by Pietro Mascagni – a story of passion and revenge located in Sicily at Easter time. ¬† I do not know if the composers and critics of the time were already using the term of verismo but the piece of the young composer was to become a representative creation of the genre, and one of the most popular pieces in the repertory of world opera.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=423&ArticleID=1298

 

Cavalleria Rusticana and its companion one act opera Pagliacci are the safe opening bet of the New Israeli Opera season. The production belongs to the Teatro Real (Royal Theater) in Madrid and directed by Giancarlo del Monaco. The musical direction in the Tel Aviv production belongs to the artistic director of the ensemble David Stern (the son of the famous violinist Isaac Stern) and I am sorry to say but the lack of discipline of the opera orchestra could be felt in the performance last night. Hopefully they will improve in coordination and accuracy, this was only the second or third performance.

 

(video source anisimovatatiana)

 

The star of the first part was without any doubt the Ukrainian soprano Tatiana Anisimova with a sensual and vibrant voice and dramatic presence on stage. You can see her above in a fragment of the Spanish version of the staging of the opera.

 

(video source Gabba02)

 

Here is another scene (the famous Easter procession) from a different performance of the opera, with Fiorenza Cossotto singing the role of Santuzza.

 

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=423&ArticleID=1298

 

Since 1893 Ruggiero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci is paired with Cavalleria. The same themes of love, jealousy, treason, revenge are combined in a more sophisticated mix that adds the theme of the tragic dimension of the art of clowns – dear to Italian opera composers and later to film directors. While the musical quality of the performance in Tel Aviv was good, it was the staging of this second part that drew the attention. The theater in theater intrigue in the second act is well staged and acted, in a clear and eloquent manner, and the neo-realistic post WWII sets and costumes fit well the veristic idea. Israeli soprano Ira Bertman faces well the three Italian partners in the only feminine role of the opera. I can only wonder why the younger generation of Israeli singers includes so many young gifted female performers with no men showing up to match the feminine presence.

 

(video source tomfroekjaer)

 

(video source cronhole)

 

(video source Gabba02)

 

Vesti la giubba is the most famous area in Pagliacci, and one of the most popular pieces in the world opera repertory. I found on youTube a few wonderful interpretations, starting with Enrico Caruso’s three different recordings made more than one century ago until the ones from Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.

In one of the best seasons of the New Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv that I can remember we watched on Saturday night the last performance of Bellini’s ‘Norma’. It also was probably the best music we got this season, as the conductor was Daniel Oren and as always when he is in charge the orchestra sounded clear and expressive, the musical phrasing was deep and emotive and the moments when the singers got lost in the noise were extremely rare if at all. The cast on the closing night was almost completely Italian, with Maria Agresta an deep and convincing Norma, Daniella Barcellona in the second (and consistent) soprano role a fragile but strong Adalgisa and Giorgio Bellugi an excellent Pollione.

Vincenzo Bellini - source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norma_%28opera%29

Unfortunately it was the staging that was left behind in the performance this time. We may have been spoiled by too many interesting directing experiments or performances mixing dance, special effects, fatuous costumes and set designs, so when these are just OK we have a feeling of unsatisfaction. Director Frederico Tiezzi brought nothing interesting or innovative to stage, and acting was very conventional and sketchy. Luckily the music saved the night and this is one of the most convincing scores in the romantic repertoire, emotional and rich in great areas, with complex phrases for the orchestra, so we felt overall fully compensated.

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/Eng/?CategoryID=381&ArticleID=942

I could find no youTube or other clip from the performance in Tel Aviv, but there are plenty of other versions of the most popular areas. I picked three versions of the beautiful ‘Casta Diva’ starring three of the greatest sopranos who sang the role of Norma ever: Maria Callas (who also holds the record with the number of stage performances in this very demanding role), Montserrat Caballe, and Angela Gheorghiu. Compare and enjoy!

(video source alphabliss)

(video source Onegin65)

(video source magghot)

bla3

‘Ernani’ is not one of the most popular operas of Verdi. Actually it us staged for the first time in Israel. Despite lacking any of the spectacular hit areas that made ‘Aida’ or’ ‘Rigoletto’ famous, it is a solid and interesting musical piece, with a strong dramatic structure, and a credible (well, in operatic terms) story which combines historical and personal elements.

source http://www.israel-opera.co.il/eng/

The story of the three men (king Carlos, Silva the rich and elder count and the outlaw Ernani) who fall in love with the same woman allows for three roles on stage for baritone, bass and tenor – all fully fledged and satisfying from a musical point of view. Staging leaves place for interesting interpretations, and this is the case with the current staging which is the result of the cooperation of the Israeli Opera and the opera houses of Poznan and Bilbao. The sets are really spectacular from a visual point of view, although the inclined plan the singers are obliged to sing most of the time risk to challenge beyond the reasonable.

(video source donthuis)

Romanian-born Israeli singer Mirela Gradinaru was a very convincing Elvira. She becomes one of the constant and stables stars on the Tel Aviv stage. I was not crazy about the American tenor Hugh Smith’s Ernani, but Ramaz Chikviladze’s Silva and Vittorio Vitelli’s Carlos balanced the overall musical balance of the evening to the positive side.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H20l9eoe_zM

(video source lamermoor9999)

No clips from the current performance are available, so you will need to get fragments from performances at Scala in compensation :-)

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