Monday, August 7, 2017

Festive concerts and two operas performed by participants in the 2017 International Masterclasses of Vocal Arts & Žamboki Awards

Cast of Viva la Mamma (Courtesy Jessie Fong Chung Tse)
From July 26th to August 6th 2017, the International Masterclasses of Vocal Arts & Žamboki Awards, Jerusalem, took place for the third consecutive year. From its modest start in 2015, the project has grown into a multi-faceted program, enriching its students from many countries with high-quality tuition, offering them a fulfilling experience on both artistic and personal levels and, for those at the outset of a career, providing a springboard into the opera world. The project been made possible through the generosity of Ruth and Josef Žamboki. Serbian-born engineer Josef Žamboki.and his sister were the only survivors of their family after World War II. In building musical ties between aspiring- and established musicians, the project celebrates the memory of the man who saved Josef in the Holocaust . Since its inception, sought-after international singer and vocal arts teacher Rona Israel-Kolatt has directed the summer course. In her words of welcome, Ms. Israel Kolatt writes: “We place emphasis on performance of works of contemporary composers. This year, we are presenting two premieres. Once again, we are  hosting some of the world’s the finest teachers and performers and are privileged to receive the generous support of the Goethe Cultural Institute and the Anni Eisler-Lehmann Foundation (Mainz, Germany), the latter working to further careers of Jewish singers in Germany.”

The IMVAJ’s Festive Orchestral Gala took place at the Israeli Center for Excellence through Education (Jerusalem) on July 30th, 2017. Under the baton of Maestro Barak Tal, the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra accompanied the many and various vocal solos, duets and ensembles, setting the scene for the opening section of Mozart opera numbers with a performance of the Overture to Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro”.  Israeli and overseas soloists Roi Sarouk, Marco Ostojic, Ognjen Milivojsa, Yarden Kiperman, Shai Terry, Christian Wagner, Esther Alayev Kopel, Jessie Fong Chung Tse, Iris Brill and Yael Sayag conjured up the magic and drama of  opera repertoire from Handel to Puccini in outstanding solo performances. Duets and ensembles were presented with brio and competence. To mention just a few of the evening’s highlights - baritone Marco Ostojic’s intense, dramatic performance of “Tutto è disposto...Aprite un po'quegli occhi” (“Marriage of Figaro”, Mozart), baritone Ognjen Milovojsa’s informed, free and theatrical singing of “Madamina, il catalogo è questo(“Don Giovanni”, Mozart), soprano Yarden Kiperman’s fine vocal control and intense emotion in “Svegliatevi nel core" (“Giulio Cesare”, Handel), Shai Terry as an evocative, bold Carmen in “Les tringles des sistres tintaient” (“Carmen”, Bizet), soprano Esther Allayev Kopel’s powerful and dynamic reading of "Otchego eto prezhde ne znala" (Iolanta, Tchaikovsky), the fresh, honeyed voice, superb technique and musicality of soprano Jessica Tse in “Caro nome” (“Rigoletto”, Verdi), mezzo-soprano Iris Brill’s gripping and tragic singing of “O don fatale” (“Don Carlos”, Verdi) and soprano Yael Sayag’s fine acting and despair in “Tu, tu piccolo Iddio” (“Madama Butterfly”, Puccini). The high quality performance of the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra added elegance and colour to the festive evening.

In “Sonorities Round the World”, taking place in the Ran Baron Hall of the Israeli Conservatory of Music, Tel Aviv, on August 1st, we heard the IMVAJ participants who had been working on Lieder and opera arias under the guidance of Prof. Claudia Eder (Germany). Singers taking part  in the concert ranged from high school students to experienced, established artists. Of the fine line-up of artists, baritone (pianist and conductor) Stefan Zekic’s singing  radiated impactful presence and feeling. Russian-born tenor Sasha Rozbizev performed pieces of both A.Scarlatti and Mahler, delving convincingly into the emotional agenda of each. Mezzo-soprano Iphigenie Worbes displayed vivacity, flexibility and good stage presence. Another young mezzo-soprano, Anna Tetruashvili, presents a large focused sound; her singing of Handel was delicately ornamented, her reading of Marc Lavry’s “Dark am I”, meaningful. Jerusalem Academy of Music student Maya Golan’s performance of Paul Ben-Haim’s setting of a poem of the poetess Rachel was profound and poignant. Her fellow student, Tal Malkinson, a soprano with fine vocal control and communicative skills, gave a moving rendition of Mordechai Zeira’s “Those Were Nights” (Lyrics: Yaakov Orland).Of the two youngest members of the class, Shir Ben Meir is showing musical versatility; high school graduate soprano Shira Ziv’s singing reveals confidence, ease and agility. American Laura Snyderman is a soprano with a “strong, heroic voice”, excellent control and technique. She chose to sing her countryman John Duke’s (1899-1984) “The Bird”. Seeing the evening out was soprano Shirelle Dashevsky’s masterful and engrossing  performance of “Leah’s Aria” from Yaakov Weinberg’s opera “The Pioneers” (1924), the first folk opera in Hebrew. The intimate, wood-panelled Ran Baron Hall was the perfect venue for such an event.  Adding to the event’s level of excellence were Chaim Tukachinsky’s artistic piano accompaniments.

August 2nd saw the Israeli premiere of Gaetano Donizetti’s two-act dramma giocoso  “Le convenienze ed inconvenienze teatrali” (Conventions and Inconveniences of the Stage) or “Viva La Mamma” (libretto: Domenico Gilardoni). The performance took place at the Israeli Center for Excellence through Education (Jerusalem). Serbian-born Aleksander Nikolić took on both stage direction and design, conductor was Israeli-born Jonathan Spandorf, pianist - Tohar Gil, lighting - Sasha Sorin and costumes - Varda Rubinstein and Nikolić. Donizetti’s farce revolves around the “convenienze” of  any 19th century opera house -  the ranking of singers, number of scenes, arias, etc. A  third-rate opera company is rehearsing “Romulus and Ersilia”, the prima donna (Jessie Fong Chung Tse) is refusing to take direction, the other principals are not much better and the lead tenor (Marc Shaimer) does not have the ability to sing his part. Mamma Agata (Ognjen Milivoja) the mother of the second donna appears on the scene, demanding that her daughter (Marianna Blinova) be given an aria; the company loses half its cast, leaving the way open for Donna II to make her debut alongside the prima donna’s husband (Christian Wagner). With the production becoming a fiasco and no money to pay back the investors, the troupe solves all these problems by fleeing the town at night. “Viva la Mamma” is a laugh a minute! First performed in 1827, the opera has a female baritone role - Donna Agata - quite rare for the genre. Milojovsa carries it off well and the costume designers make capital of the cross-dressing role, especially in his/her second somewhat risqué outfit. Jessie Fong Chung Tse plays the drama queen with relish, Marc Sheimer proves that he can be a hopeless tenor if necessary and all hell breaks loose. Iris Brill (the impresario) in a role that demands more speech than singing, does a very nice job of updating Hebrew-speaking audience members on the increasingly chaotic situation. And there are many whimsical touches: with a multilingual cast on stage, we hear jocular snatches of speech in different languages. The stage is alive with movement, much of it comical and, to the surprise of all who have come to hear a Donizetti opera, there is the versatile Shirelle Dashevsky (Dorothea) suddenly singing a jazzy piece (no text), partnered by the pianist!  With its timeless theme of jealousy and one-upmanship in the theatre, “Viva la Mamma” is one of Donizetti’s more obscure works, yet, despite the anarchy on stage, the music still works out, and it actually includes several very challenging passages for the chorus. Considering the minimal time available for preparation and rehearsals, the IMVAJ team and singers gave of their all, delighting in the opera’s boisterous fun and pulling out all the plugs. And, as the audience shifted from a chuckle to a belly laugh and back again, there were constant reminders of the fact that that Donizetti can write a good melody!.

Another significant event of the workshop was the world- and Israeli premiere of “Albert”, a one-act opera composed by Moshe Zorman to a Hebrew libretto by Oded Liphshitz (b.1981). Sivan Handelsman undertook the stage direction, stage design and costumes, Dor Magen was  conductor, with Elisha Krawets at the piano. This writer attended the performance at Tzavta, Tel Aviv on August 6th.

The libretto for “Albert” was adapted from Liphshitz’ play of the same name, a work that won the playwright the Bernstein Prize for Literature in 2012. Middle-aged Albert is is diagnosed as having an enlarged libido for a man of his age and an uncontrolled passion for women. After visiting his doctor, he attempts to find a solution to his burning desires. Albert’s search leads him to the library, to the world of Zen in the Far East and to other places. Every pursuit  leads to a new even more challenging problem. When all fails, the doctor turns to more desperate measures. Albert cries out to God,  the devil appears and Albert looks on as faces from the past appear. In the role of Albert, baritone Roi Sarouk’s finely timbred voice and musicality did justice to the highly melodious score, his clarity of diction faultless. Albert was not portrayed as a flirtatious, confident macho man but as a somewhat pathetic figure, dependent on the dominant figure of the doctor (Yarden Kiperman in a pants role) to help him solve his problem. Shai Terry, as Albert’s sister Mika, made for an empathic, supportive character. Dressed in white, the “four girls” (Inbar Livne,Yael Manor Danler, Anna Tetruashvili, Dalia Bespozvany) formed a kind of all-purpose Greek chorus, dancing, singing, moving props, setting the scene visually and musically for each situation and location. The props themselves consisted largely of hospital screens, there to remind the audience that Albert’s state is indeed a clinical problem. Zorman’s music, attractive, articulate, never overloaded and gently poised on the border between tonal- and atonal writing, reflects Albert’s dejected state. The is much melody for the singers. Elisha Krawets (also dressed in a surgical coat) played the piano score, one utilizing motifs and occasional quotes, with good taste and refinement. Of his oeuvre of some 100 works, Israeli composer, conductor and pianist Moshe Zorman (b. 1952) has composed ten operas to date. His music defies any one specific style, his writing comfortably blurring the borders between classical- and light music, and with a touch of whimsy.

Kudos to Rona Israel Kolatt and her team for the inspiration and energy they invested in making the workshop one of value and excellence.  

Rona Israel Kolatt (photo:Michal Harduf  Raz)