Saturday, August 1, 2015

The New Israeli Opera celebrates 30 years of performance at a gala event hosted by the Israeli president and his wife

On July 30th 2015, the President of the State of Israel Mr. Reuven (Rubi) Rivlin and his wife Mrs. Nechama Rivlin hosted an event celebrating 30 years of the reopening of the Israeli Opera. It began as a festive garden party in the attractive grounds of the presidential residence. A small exhibition of sets and costumes from various opera productions was also on display in the gardens. As daylight faded on this balmy, breezy Jerusalem evening, guests were invited to take their seats in the open-air concert area where the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion, the resident orchestra of the Israeli Opera, was seated on the stage, to be directed by Israeli-born Daniel Cohen, a conductor active and renowned on the international opera scene.

Emceeing the evening was actor, singer, writer and producer Chaim Topol. Welcoming the guests, he opened the evening’s cultural procedures with a small reminder of the fact that opera is a broad-spanning art form - a story in song and action accompanied by instruments, all directed by a conductor, a genre also including choreography, costumes and scenery. President Rivlin spoke of the 1917 vision of Mordechai Golinkin, a dream that came true in 1923 with Golinkin’s Palestine Opera. He also spoke of American opera singer Edis de Philippe, who arrived in Israel in 1945, creating the Israel National Opera, a company that performed all over the country and that attracted many great international names from the opera world to perform in it. In 1982, the Ministry of Culture and Education ceased its funding for the company and it closed. The Council for Arts and Culture created the New Israeli Opera in 1985, with Uri Offer as its general director for a decade. Today the Israeli Opera is led by its general manager Hanna Munitz. Rivlin spoke of the company’s fine standards, performing not only in Tel Aviv, its repertoire also including new works of Israeli composers, of late, operas by Haim Permont and Yoni Rechter. Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev spoke of this being an auspicious event, that music creates solidarity and that the Israeli Opera is an important institution, a voice of peace, and of its important role of bringing opera performances to the periphery. Hanna Munitz mentioned the Meitar Opera Studio, a training school for emerging opera singers. She spoke of opera performance experiences taking place in kindergartens, schools and parks and of the festive, full-scale performances at Masada, “in the middle of the desert”, in her words. She spoke of a new community project – a choir made up of small children from the Kyriat Hinuch School in Jaffa, later heard at this event with soprano Linor Ilan.

As the last of the birds took their leave from a day of singing and a full moon made its appearance in the night sky, the concert of opera favorites sung by some of the Israeli Opera’s younger and more veteran soloists began. The New Israeli Opera’s first production was Henry Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas”, so it was meaningful to begin the musical program with “Dido’s Lament”, performed by the young, outstanding mezzo-soprano Na’ama Goldman, who later joined Argentinian tenor Gustavo Porta in the “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s “Carmen”, a performance bristling with emotion and temperament. Also displaying the high standards and competence of the homegrown younger generation of opera singers was Hila Fahima in fresh, agile singing of arias from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, the latter a tour-de-force of drama and excitement. Latvian-born soprano Ira Bertman and Maestro Cohen collaborated closely In a rich and moving rendition of “I lived for art, I lived for love” from Puccini’s “Tosca”. Baritone Noah Briger took the audience with him in his bold, jaunty performance of the “Toreador Song” from “Carmen”, sung in Hebrew (translation: David Sebba). Wielding her large voice with superb control, Romanian-born soprano Mirella Gradinaru created the magic of bel canto singing in “Norma’s Prayer” from Bellini’s “Norma”. No new face to the Israeli Opera, Argentinian tenor Gustavo Forta won the audience over with the anguished farewell to life in “And the stars shone” from “Tosca” and a spine-chilling “None shall sleep” from Puccini’s “Turandot”. One of the major soloists of the Israeli Opera since emigrating from the former Soviet Union, bass-baritone Vladimir Braun has performed more than 50 roles in the company. At this event, his luxuriant performance from Rossini’s “Barber of Seville” created the excitement, tension and theatrical experience of the opera stage. From “Schitz”, a new opera composed by Yoni Rechter, based on Hanoch Levin’s play of the same name (premiered in July 2015) we heard Ira Bertman, Yael Levita, Noah Briger and Oded Reich in “At 6 in the evening”, the opera’s user-friendly music written in tonal musical language.

The Israeli Opera gala event was an evening to remember – the tranquil atmosphere of the leafy grounds of the presidential residence, the trees either side of the stage lit up in changing colors, the music, a host of fine performances and a sense of pride the Israeli Opera has created in the hearts of so many of us.

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