Friday, January 8, 2016

In its fourth production, the Jerusalem Opera performs "Madame Butterfly"

The Jerusalem Opera was founded in 2011, its debut performance taking place in 2012. The company was established by Jerusalem residents and artists who saw the need for Israel’s capital, a cultural and spiritual centre for centuries, to have its own high quality opera company.  Recognized by the Israeli Ministry of Culture and Sport and supported by the Jerusalem Foundation, the Jerusalem Municipality and private donors, its aim is to nurture local talent, with visiting international artists playing some of the leading roles guiding and coaching the younger singers. The company will offer programs including both operatic repertoire and Jewish music. With community outreach among its aims, the Jerusalem Opera will give preference to singers and artists who live and work in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Opera’s first season (2012-2013) presented “Masters and Servants” (a fantasy based on Mozart operas), its second (2013-2014) staged outdoor performances of “Don Giovanni” at David’s Citadel and the third (2014-2015) saw a production of “The Marriage of Figaro”. The recent production of “Madame Butterfly” was performed in Jerusalem and Ashdod. This writer attended “Madame Butterfly” in the Sherover Theatre of the Jerusalem Centre for the Performing Arts. In the same capacity as he has been since the Jerusalem Opera’s founding, Omer Arieli was music director and conductor, with Prof. Andre Hajdu serving as musical advisor. Italian baritone Gabriele Ribis was stage director and Oded Shomrony choirmaster. The orchestra was the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble (director: Arie Bardroma).

An opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini, with the Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, the storyline of “Madame Butterfly” is based in part on John Luther Long’s 1898 short story of the same name. The opera was premiered at La Scala (Milan) in 1904 and has become one of the most frequently performed operas worldwide. The Jerusalem Opera cast brought together local singers as well as overseas guest artists. In the role of Lieutenant B.F.Pinkerton, French tenor Avi Klemberg presented the character as initially tense in the situation of marrying a 15-year-old geisha, his appearance in the final scene focused and convincing. Italian baritone Marcello Lippi was authoritative as Sharpless, the American consul to Nagasaki. Fleet of movement and offering comic relief to the opera’s tragic agenda, young Israeli tenor Ron Silberstein played the role of Goro, the marriage broker. Other soloists were Noa Hope as Kate Pinkerton, Gilad Rosenberg as Prince Yamadori, Ehoud Yaari as the Bonzo and German-American baritone Samuel Berlad as the Commissioner. Born in Belarus and today residing in Germany mezzo-soprano Anna Peshes, equipped with a mellow, stable and richly colored vocal timbre, also empathy and quiet charisma, made for an outstanding Suzuki (Butterfly’s servant). Israeli-born, today residing in Berlin, Yasmine Levi-Ellentuck played Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly), a mammoth role both vocally and emotionally. Singing this role for the first time, what was clear to the audience was the deep enquiry she has made into the person, the mentality and vocal challenges necessary to take on the portrayal. In beautifully chiseled vocal lines, some wonderfully controlled pianissimo singing and her refined and understated acting, she revealed the inner world of the young geisha woman confronted with the western mentality and the tragedy of the illusion of her marriage to Pickering.

Under the baton of Maestro Omer Arieli, the Tel Aviv Soloists Ensemble played with vitality and attention to detail, occasionally being a little too loud for the soloists. The Jerusalem Opera’s fine, engaging and vibrant performance and Puccini’s splendid music took precedence over the not overly inspiring stage setting and the lack of beautiful Japanese costumes and suitable make-up.  

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