Friday, January 15, 2016

The Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra is joined by singers of the Meitar Opera Studio at its opening concert of the 2016 season

The Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra was joined by five members of the Meitar Opera Studio for the opening concert of the 2016 season on January 12th in the Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship of the Jerusalem International YMCA.  

Established in 2012 the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra is named in memory of Maestro Mendi Rodan, Israel Prize winner, professor of conducting and Head of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.  Members of the orchestra are students at the Academy; they audition to be accepted as players and work intensively prior to each concert, first in sectional rehearsals, then with all players. This way, participants receive professional training and become familiar with orchestral repertoire. Prof. Eitan Globerson, the orchestra’s founder, home conductor and musical director, conducted the opening concert.

The Meitar Opera Studio, under the auspices of the Israeli Opera and directed by Maestro David Sebba, is a practical study- and performance program for young Israeli opera singers following their graduation from music academies, giving them training and stage experience in preparation for opera careers. On graduation from the Meitar course, some singers join the Israeli Opera, with others performing further afield.

Following the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra’s finely crafted playing of the Overture to W.A.Mozart’s opera “Don Giovanni”, members of the Meitar Opera Studio gave some electrifying renditions of opera arias: soprano Efrat Vulfsons and tenor Gitai Fisher contended well with the large orchestra, giving expression to “Ma quale mai s’offre oh dei” (What is this I behold) from Don Giovanni.  Vulfsons presented all the strong emotions of the piece, Donna Anna’s shrieks of relief, hallucinations and revenge, with Fisher a stable and authoritative Don Ottavio. In “Quando m’en vo…” (And you who know) from Puccini’s “La Bohème, Vulfsons combines her variety of textures with a fine technique to create an unaffected performance of this opera favorite.  In Ferrando’s aria from “Cosi fan tutti” “Un’aura amorosa” (A loving aura) Fisher’s cantabile, tender singing of the serenade was pure delight. Tenor Osher Sebbag, equipped with both a superb operatic voice and charisma, pours emotion into each role as he addresses his audience. With his tender, heartfelt performance of Nemorino’s aria “Un furtive lagrima” (A furtive tear) from Donizetti’s “L’elisire d’amore”, replete with carefully placed dramatic pauses, he took his audience with him all the way. Sebbag was joined by soprano Tali Ketzef for two arias from Verdi’s “La Traviata”; with the orchestra highlighting the delicacy of the moment of Violetta and Alfredo’s reuniting in “Parigi, o cara” (Dearest, we shall leave Paris), the singers collaborated well, timing gestures sensitively. In “Sempre libera” (Free and aimless) Ketzef floats the dizzying coloratura sections with ease, depicting Violetta as a jolly (or possibly insane) woman, with Alfredo’s amorous voice heard from the street. In “O, mia Babbino caro” (O my dear father) from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi”, soprano Irena Alhazov’s warmth of tone and vocal ease provided the audience with much enjoyment of the opera’s most famous aria. Kudos to the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra’s players and their articulate conductor for their sensitive, richly colored and finely detailed orchestral support of these outstanding singers.

Following the intermission, Maestro Eitan Globerson and the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra performed Hector Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” (1830), a work surely of great interest to the young players, its style and fantasy launching the spirit of Romantic period in music, its extra-musical agenda firing the fantasy of both players and listeners. In 1827 Berlioz saw a performance of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”; he was smitten by the power of the drama but also by the beauty of actress Harriet Smithson. It seems she did not return his advances, hence the symphony’s program with its “idée fixe” running throughout the work, eventually taking the composer to the gallows (Berlioz’ eventual marriage to her ended in divorce.) To what extent the work is authentically programmatic (in time, Berlioz addressed less importance to the several programs he had written) or the result of visions due to the effects of drugs is not certain. Such superb and original music, the astounding, innovative combinations of its orchestration, not to speak of the “speaking” part given to the drums, keep the 5-movement work inspiring in its freshness and no less fascinating in its psychological aspects.  The score calls for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 4 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets and 2 cornets, 3 trombones, 2 ophicleides (usually replaced by bass tubas), timpani, bass drum, snare drum, cymbals, low-pitched bells, two harps and strings. All of the above background and ideas make this work an experientially musical and affecting experience for players and audience alike. Globerson and his players gave fervent expression to the work’s sweeping melodic lines and shapes, its timbral interest, its small plangent solos and abundantly colored tutti.  Much attention was also given to the work’s more intimate utterances, finding their way straight to the listener’s heart. The choice of the “Symphonie Fantastique” may have been no coincidence: as to the workings of the mind, Prof. Globerson is a researcher of brain science at Bar Ilan University, his post-doctoral research probing the perception of melody, using state-of-the-art imaging to track brain responses to pitch, loudness, timbre and other auditory attributes. Berlioz once wrote: “The predominant qualities of my music are passionate expression, inner fire, rhythmic drive – and the unexpected.” This was indeed evident in Prof. Globerson and the Mendi Rodan Symphony Orchestra’s exciting and masterful performance.

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