Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Scenes from Giuseppe Sinico's opera "I Moschettieri" performed at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies

Giuseppe Sinico was born in Trieste in 1836 and died there in 1907. Of Jewish origin, he composed “Inno di San Giusto”, a sort of Triestine anthem. He taught voice and directed the Reyer Singing School and was choral conductor at the Trieste Synagogue and the Greek Basilica. There was some talk of his having been James Joyce’s voice teacher; at any rate, Joyce uses Sinico’s name in his book “The Dubliners”. (The character is, however, a certain Captain Sinico, the captain of a merchant ship and not a musician.) “I Moschettieri” (The Musketeers) (1859), based on Alexandre Dumas senior’s “Les Trois Mousquetaires”, was Sinico’s first opera.

Scenes from the opera were presented at a concert in the Sunday Evening Classics series at the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies (Mormon University) November 21st, 2010. This performance was the sixth and last event of the “Non Solo Verdi” Project, in which Professor Jehoash Hirshberg (Department of Musicology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem), together with his research team – Dr. Na’ama Ramot, Sonya Mazar, Ramona Paul, and Meir Stern - had researched, edited and revived twelve forgotten Italian operas of the 213 written between 1860 and 1870, the decade of Italy’s unification. The project was supported by a research grant from the Israel Science Foundation. Pianist and vocal coach Sonya Mazar (b. Ukraine,1971) served as musical director and pianist for the project.

Professor Hirshberg, dressed as a judge, complete with a dramatic silvery wig, introduced the evening’s program. The auditorium of the Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies was filled to capacity with people interested to familiarize themselves with a new opera, to take time out from reality and indulge themselves in the extravagances of 19th century opera. Sonya Mazar played the overture, its foreboding atmosphere punctuated with lush cantabile melodies. The opera plot focuses on the musketeers’ struggle with the cunning aristocrat Miledi, Athos’ wife, a ruthless murderer. The fleur-de-lis tattooed on her shoulder by the hangman is a sign of her wicked past. To summarize the plot, Athos, having discovered the ill-fated fleur-de-lis tattoo (perhaps more acceptable today than 150 years ago) after marrying Miledi, throws her into the sea. The musketeer d’Artegnan (Yevgeni Nezhnets) declares his love to Miledi (yes, she survived the ordeal), under his breath asking forgiveness from his true love, Alice. Miledi demands that he kill Vades as a sign of his love to her. The love letters she thought were from Vades had actually been written by D’Artegnan. When D’Artignan sees the fleur-de-lis, he realizes that the “lady” is Athos’ wife. Furious with him for tricking her, she wants to stab him with her dagger, D’Artegnan threatens her with his sword, she faints (standard female strategy) and he escapes. In another scene, Athos, his face masked, captures Miledi in an inn, reveals his identity to her and forces her at dagger-point to surrender the royal decree that had given her freedom to act till then as she wished. Athos (Andrei Trifonov) sings a song of triumph, this leading into a richly-colored duet with Miledi (Julya Plakhina).

Things only get worse. Alice, the queen’s chambermaid and confidante (Valeria Fubini-Ventura), who is in love with D’Artegnan, receives a message to meet him before he leaves for battle. She is seen running from the palace. Miledi has poisoned Alice as a revenge to D’Artegnan. The instrumental accompaniment forewarns the listeners and evokes the mounting, stressful situation. Miledi hides in an inn; her vengeance has brought no peace to her heart and she is haunted by her victims. D’Artegnan and Athos burst into the room at the inn, preventing her escape. It is time for Miledi’s come-uppances. D’Artegnan wants to kill her but Athos stops him, ushering in the judge, who is no other than Jehoash Hirshberg himself. With a nonchalant wave of the hand, the judge agrees to the verdict, condemning Miledi to death.

Baritone Andrei Trifonov, born in Siberia, played Athos with intensity and drama. Mezzo-soprano Julya Plakhina was born in the former Soviet Union. Her portrayal of Miledi was expressive and feminine, he voice rich and expansive. Soprano Valeria Fubini-Ventura, born in Italy, has performed with “Non Solo Verdi” since its inception. Playing the role of Alice, she combines delicate, shapely melodic lines with her appealing stage presence. Tenor Yevgeni Nezhynets, played a convincing D’Artegnan. Nezhynets is a soloist with the Israeli Opera. Sonya Mazor has a fine sense of the genre. She holds the production together, her artistic and tasteful playing not only supporting her singers but creating the atmosphere of the story, warning, describing and delighting. She never oversteps the boundaries of good taste. Francoise Coriat’s attractive costuming added much to the visual enjoyment of the evening.

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