Entries tagged with “opera”.

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.




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 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)


‘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.


(video source lamermoor9999)

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

It seldom happens that people go to an opera performance mainly for the stage sets. Here is one of these rare instances, as the sets of the New Israeli Opera staging of Bela Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle are designed by no other than the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly, originally for a performance at the Seattle Opera. It’s actually part of the return of Chihuly to Israel ten years after the exhibition of his works in the Tower of David in Jerusalem which brought to the capital of Israel more than one million visitors.  The Litvak Gallery located just behind the Opera building in Tel Aviv hosts a new exhibition of his works which also opened last week.

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

The opera itself lasts about one hour, and in order to make the performance last a reasonable two hours is preceded by a soprano and orchestra performance the ‘Songs for Dead Children’ by Mahler. Inspired by a fairy take by Perrault the story takes us on the Gothic dark side with the young bride opening seven successive doors in the Duke castle until the last and forbidden one opens to the expected dark secret. It is probably one of the most serious and somber pieces of music written by the Hungarian composer., whose quality relies to a large extent on the two singers, as the whole opera is one continuous duet. The two singers in the Tel Aviv performance bass Vladimir Braun and soprano Svetlana Sander belong to the generation of Israeli singers who came from the former Soviet Union and are now at the pick of their artistic capabilities. Both perdormances were mature and consistent, with Sander’s passion balanced by Braun scene presence.

(video source franzhun)

I could find no picks from the performance on the Internet, so here is one fragment from a performance in London with Sir George Solti directing the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Sylvia Sass as Judith and Kolos Kováts as Bluebeard.

And the sets? Yes, they are beautiful. Next time however I would love to hear more music.

Gershwin’s (or The Gershwins’ as the performance program says) Porgy and Bess performances in Israel were not spared of some non-musical controversy, as a few weeks before the show there was big pressure on the Cape Town Opera to cancel the tour (apparently planned for four years) in Tel Aviv.  Luckily the South-African institution decided not to boycott the Israeli audiences and there I was last night enjoying a very different first performance as a subscriber of the New Israeli Opera new season.

(video source ntobekoleo)

The history of Porgy and Bess is not deprived of controversy at all, and this more recent would be just one added and probably not the last one. Composed by George Gershwin in 1933-34 on a libretto by DuBose Heyward and based on his novel, the opera is written for an almost all black singers team, and the lyrics are written by Ira Gershwin in an Afro-American dialect. Although the structure and the lyric material represent a very solid and self-contained operatic material the opera was premiered on Broadway and did not reach the Metropolitan Opera where the Gershwins dreamed to be mounted but after their death and 50 years after the premiere. While a popular film by Otto Preminger staring Sidney Poitier (doubled by a singer voice) made the opera famous world-wide, and the opening area ‘Summertime’ made it back to the first page of the big American songbook and famous jazz standards, part of the Afro-American community did not accept easily the opera as a cultural accolade but pointed to the racial stereotypes that accumulate in the story and its characters. I found a detailed and well-written description of the racial controversy around Porgy and Bess at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porgy_and_Bess#Racial_controversy. Having the performance staged at a major opera house in the country that walked the difficult road from a racist state to freedom and reconciliation is symbolic.

(video source Praguedive)

(video source korkhmmaregon)

The vision brought to stage by the Opera from Cape Town and the director Christine Crouse transplants the conflict from the South Carolina fisher’s village to the Soweto suburbs during the peak of the apartheid rule, using the sets and costumes designed by Michael Mitchell. It is the first time that I am hearing the opera sung in a full performance, so I had quite a strange feeling in some moments, as the more famous tunes sounded different than in their jazz or pop music variants. Yet it was a convincing version with the gospel vibrations coming up much stronger than some of the Jewish roots of a few tunes and motives in the score – but this was expected. The team of singers were good and authentic in their African rendition of the story, with baritone Xolela Sixaba impressing with his musical but also acting talent as Porgy, and with sopranos Philisa Sibeko (Clara) and Tina Meme (Serene) showing great vocal skills, better last night in my opinion than those of Sibongile Mngoma who was trusted with being Bess. The Opera Orchestra (which is also the Israel Symphony Orchestra from Rishon LeZion) directed by David Stern was uninspired and too loud but this seems to be an almost chronic problem of its performances.

Monteverdi’s rendition of the story of Orpheus is a milestone in the evolution of opera, one of the first works that definitely crossed the barrier of the oratorio into a fully defined stage representation. It includes remarkable musical moments, arias and recitatives with fine instrumental backing, it has a clear story line and a duration that makes it fit to modern representations. No wonder it has been part of the repertory of big opera houses for many years, as one of the most representative and most popular pieces of the early baroque style.

(video source ladiszka3)

The version that I have recently seen on the Mezzo TV chain was put on stage at the Theatre de la Monnaie – the opera theater in Bruxelles which has a fascinating history of its own. I hope to have the time to write about it separately in a separate piece on the blog. The musical direction belongs to Rene Jacobs and the main role was sung by Simon Keenlydeside.

(video source FILMS7)

It is however the stage direction which is remarkable in this representation. Theatre de la Monnaie has a long tradition of supporting innovative ballet. Maurice Bejart was a ballet master here from 1959 to 1992, and I have seen one remarkable work of the ballet troupe in Tel Aviv a few years ago. This version of the L’orpheo is directed by Trisha Brown, one of the remarkable American choreographer of our times, and the result is as it can be expected a wonderful combination of music and movement, which fills in the recitative and instrumental parts with dance and acrobatics. It’s not an easy task for the performers, as the solo and chorus singers are required to sing and dance to fulfill the vision of a complete performance. Here is one example of the scene where Orpheus tries to cross the gates of the underworld.

(video source votregali)

Luckily I also found on youTube the final scene, with Simon Keenlydeside – the overall concept of music, dance, sets and lights can be well enjoyed in this sequence.