Thursday, February 17, 2011

David Sebba conducts the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and members of the Israel Opera Workshop in excerpts from Die Fledermaus

A “Viennese Celebration” was the title of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra’s semi-staged performance of excerpts from Johann Strauss II’s operetta “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat.) Taking place on February 9th 2011 in the Henry Crown Auditorium (Jerusalem Theatre) the concert was the third of this season’s Vocal Series and the fourth of The Light Classics Series. David Sebba conducted the JSO and singers of the Israeli Opera Studio.

The Opera Studio is a practical study- and performance program for young Israeli opera singers who have graduated from music academies and are about to embark on an operatic career. The Opera Studio works at widening the young singers’ operatic knowledge, enabling them to gain musical and acting experience in both solo- and ensemble capacities. David Sebba is musical director of the Israel Opera Studio.

Israeli-born pianist, conductor, singer and translator David Sebba, a graduate of the Tel Aviv Academy of Music, has composed theatre music, creates arrangements, orchestrates and has participated in several Israel Opera productions as a singer, pianist and conductor. He has translated several operas into Hebrew. In 2003 he established the OddOpera opera ensemble. He directs choirs, directs opera studies at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and is Conductor in Residence of the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra. Sebba’s own show “Mad about Opera” is a parody on the history of voice and opera.

In 1873, in an attempt to distract the Viennese public from the city’s economic depression, the director of the Theater an der Wien purchased the rights to the Parisian vaudeville “Le Reveillon” by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy, eventually requesting the theatre’s conductor Richard Genee and Johann Strauss II to compose the music for the operetta. Strauss composed it in 42 days (actually 42 nights) of relentless work. At its premiere in 1874, the overture was interrupted several times by applause; the work was quickly to become the composer’s most popular operetta.

All the who’s who of Viennese society will be attending Count Orlovsky’s ball. They just do not want each other to know. Gabriel von Eisenstein should be going to prison and is keeping a low profile. His wife Rosalinde and her lover, Alfred, are keen not to be recognized. Their maid, Adele, should be tending to her sick aunt but attends the ball dressed in one of Rosalinde’s gowns. Eisenstein’s best friend, Falke, is planning to take revenge on Eisenstein for playing a practical joke on him. (In their younger days, the two had attended a fancy dress ball – Eisenstein dressed as a butterfly and Falke as a bat. Falke had become drunk and Eisenstein had left him under a tree, having to walk home through the town in the bat costume.) At the ball, taking the identity of the “Marquis Renard”, Eisenstein is very taken by a Hungarian countess (his wife) wearing a mask. She manages to take his pocket watch, with which she will prove his infidelity. In the final scene, set in the prison, all masks are lifted, identities are known and truths revealed. Eisenstein and Rosalinde clear up their misunderstandings.

Within the first strains of the overture, the realities and pressures of today’s world has melted away and the audience is swept into the evening’s frivolities with snippets of the Waltz King’s most loved melodies, waltzes and polkas, their joie-de-vivre punctuated by small tugs at the heart strings. David Sebba was wielding a large orchestra, its palette strongly colored and compelling. Nadav Inbar (Alfred) was convincing and comical, his voice well projected. In the role of Falke, baritone Shlomi Wagner’s fine diction and fresh brightness of vocal color were pleasing. Mezzo soprano Na’ama Goldman, playing Prince Orlovsky, has an interesting voice and natural acting ability, her singing clean and not over-upholstered with vibrato. Guest singer tenor Nimrod Grinboim (Eisenstein) pleased the audience with his competence, humor and stage presence.

Soprano Avigail Gurtler took on every bit of the character of Adele, the Eisensteins’ flighty and coquettish maid. She makes good use of facial expression and body language and has a real feel for comedy. Her voice, although not large, is agile, her intonation good and she flits through her high register with ease, hitting high notes with clarity.

Efrat Ashkenasi was most impressive in her portrayal of Rosalinde. A soprano with an interesting mix of vocal color, she is an opera natural with her musicality, poise, brilliant vocal ability and sense of humor. Disguised as a Hungarian countess, she makes her grand entrance at the ball wearing a stunning gown of red, black and silver brocade; masked, carrying a fan and speaking with a thick Hungarian accent, she uses her temperament to present the farce in all its absurdity. She sings the Hungarian czardas to convince everyone of her authenticity:
‘Sounds of my homeland,
You awaken my longing,
Call forth tears
To my eyes!
When I hear you
You songs of home,
You draw me back,
My Hungary, to you!....

Preceding Act 3, we were presented with a number of operatic arias – a mini concert within the opera. Guest singer Agam Englard-Saar performed three arias by Franz Lehar – two from “The Merry Widow” and one from “Iuditta”. Englard-Saar’s voice is full and expansive, her performance theatrical and experienced. Playing Ida, Yifat Weisskopf’s choice of the Habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen” was well suited to her temperament and the heavy timbre of her voice. Affiliated with the Israel Opera Studio, South African tenor Given Nkosi joined the concert, singing opera favorites, delighting the audience with his fine and polished performance. His “O solo mio” was a winner!

It is encouraging and heartening to hear and see these fine, young opera singers taking courageous, confident strides onto the opera stage. In fact, it is exciting! David Sebba’s user-friendly rhyming translation of texts and lively conducting added much to the enjoyment of the evening. The JSO, in fine form and as much a part of the rollicking good fun as the singers, was too powerful for the voices of some of the young soloists.


Karl Petersen said...

It is a pleasure to come across a review with balance, background and a love for the subject. Thanks!

Pamela Hickman said...

Thank you so much, Mr. Petersen!