Saturday, January 19, 2013

Aeterna Opera celebrates ten years at a gala concert in Jerusalem

The Jerusalem chamber choir “Musica Aeterna”, specializing in the performance of music by Russian composers, was established in 1996. With most of its singers hailing from the former Soviet Union, it was founded by Ilya Plotkin, who continues to serve its musical director and conductor. Then, in 2003, Maestro Plotkin formed “Aeterna Opera”, creating a company that annually performs fully staged operas in Jerusalem, its members being professional opera singers. “Aeterna Opera” enjoys the support of the Ministry of Absorption, the Ministry of Culture and Sport and the Centre for Support for Immigrant Artists.

Ilya Plotkin immigrated to Israel in 1992 from Moscow. In Russia he taught music, conducted choirs and carried out an in-depth study of the psychology of musical perception. Plotkin was a recipient of the Ministry of Absorption’s 2009 Yuri Stern Prize for immigrant artists.

On January 13th 2013, the “Aeterna Opera” Theatre Company celebrated its first ten years of existence with a gala concert held at the Jerusalem Khan Theatre. City councilman Pepe Alalu opened with a few words of greeting. Mrs. Elinor Plotkin, the untiring, driving force behind “Musica Aeterna” and “Aeterna Opera”, spoke of the talent, support and friendship that make the company such an important part of the Jerusalem cultural scene. The evening consisted of excerpts from several of the company’s productions, accompanied at the piano with much good taste by Nataly Rotenberg and Uri Brener alternately. A screen at the right of the stage showed a selection of excerpts from several “Aeterna Opera” productions, including the small accompanying orchestras in which Maestro Plotkin and his players were seen in costume and wigs. During the course of the evening, we viewed an interview filmed with Maestro Plotkin ten years ago. Emceeing the evening with much lightheartedness was Moscow-born actor and translator Gera Sandler. Costumes and stage design were created by Irina Tkachenko.

The event opened with a small reminder of Musica Aeterna’s beginnings in 1996, as a handful of the chamber choir’s singers on stage (today they number 22 to 24 singers) performed movements from Haydn’s “Missa Brevis” in D major K194, some solo moments sung by high soprano Hilma Digilov contrasting well with the richly anchored alto section of the choir. The program then proceeded with several arias from operas from the company’s repertoire: mezzo-soprano Julia Plakhin’s competent and compelling performance of one of Dorabella’s arias from Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” (Thus Do They All), followed by the large, silvery, bell-like voice of Galina Zifferblat as the fickle young Narcissa in Luigi Boccherini’s “La Clementina”. Also from “La Clementina” we heard the fine singing of sopranos Helena Plotkin and Shirelle Dashevsky in duet, flowed by one of Dona Damiana’s solo arias (Helena Plotkin). Zifferblat, one of the troupe’s younger, more recent singers, gave a coquettish portrayal of Sandrina from Haydn’s 1773 “burletta per musica” (“burletta” a term for “comic opera” or “farce”) “L’infedeltà delusa” (Deceit Outwitted).

One of the evening’s highlights was tenor Dmitry Semenov’s portrayal of Lensky in an aria from Tchaikovsky’s “Eugen Onegen”, the collaboration between him and pianist Brener producing a beautifully shaped and sensitive performance. Semenov was then joined by veteran Aeterna bass baritone Andrei Trifonov in a duet reflecting the tension and drama woven into the atmosphere of the same opera.

Gera Sandler took a few moments to remind the audience of the daring experiment carried out by Ilya Plotkin in 2008, in which G.B.Pergolesi and Giovanni Paisiello’s settings of “La serva padrona” (The Servant Mistress) were presented together in one performance. Till today, the memory of the originally conceived, sumptuous stage setting, its space divided into two symmetrical sides (for two separate operas, their music alternating throughout) remains imprinted in my memory. In the concert, we first heard soprano Shirelle Dashevsky, as the devious and flirtatious Serpina, bating the unfortunate and gullible Uberto (Andrei Trifonov) from the Pergolesi setting, then Trifonov as Uberto to be taunted by  Julia Plakhin as Serpina in the Paisiello version.

“Opera Aeterna” has recently returned from Italy, where it gave the first ever performance of Aldo Finzi’s opera “Serenata al Vento” in the Bergamo Music Festival of December 2012. Under the auspices of the Jerusalem Foundation, with costumes and sets designed by members of the Harmartef Theatre and the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design (both in Jerusalem), the opera took place at the Gaetano Donizetti Theatre. Born in Milan, Aldo Finzi (1897-1945) was from a Mantuan Jewish family; his oeuvre includes lyrics, chamber music, symphonic music, an unfinished dramatic opera and “Serenata al Vento” (Serenade to the Wind), the latter based on a libretto by Carlo Veneziani. Finzi had entered the opera into a competition promoted by the Teatro alla Scala for selection of an opera for the following season. However, with the racial laws enforced a few months later in Italy, Finzi was denied the right to have his music performed and this opera remained unperformed. The plot focuses on the exuberant Loly and her pedantic tutor, Leandro, who enters Loly’s window by mistake in order to get away from his secret lover’s house. Loly’s strict father, Colonel Dagoberto, is incensed and what results is a volley of misunderstandings and comical situations. Shortly before he died, Aldo Finzi expressed his last wish “Fate suonare la mia musica” (Let my music be performed). On December 2nd 2012, his wish was granted: with his son Bruno Finzi present, “La Serenata al Vento” was premiered by "Aeterna Opera" and the Donizetti Theatre Orchestra almost 70 years after being written. At the Jerusalem concert, we heard soprano Shirelle Dashevsky, accompanied by pianist Uri Brener, in a poignant and expressive performance of one of Loly’s arias. “Aeterna Opera” offers its audiences the opportunity to hear well-known, lesser-known and rare works of opera repertoire.

We were also presented with a preview of the next “Aeterna Opera” production – Gaetano Donizetti’s “Rita” or “The Beaten Husband” (1841), a one-act “opéra comique” to a French libretto by Gustave Vaëz. The complications of this domestic comedy were presented by Galina Zifferblat (as Rita), Andrei Trifonov, comically portraying Rita’s cunning first husband Gaspar and Dmitry Seminov as Peppe, her present, miserable and hen-pecked husband. This future Aeterna production promises to amuse audiences with the hi-jinks and the light-heartedness of one of Donizetti’s most frequently performed operas.

The evening concluded with a colorful ensemble from the company’s first production - W.A.Mozart’s “L’Impressario” - performed by its core of six soloists, each of the singers familiar to Jerusalem’s opera-going public. The evening’s festive concert was yet another reminder of the high standard of singing and stagecraft “Aeterna Opera” has set and maintained, of its rich repertoire and the dedication of all its artists and members working behind the scenes.

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