Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Jerusalem Opera and guests perform Mozart's "Magic Flute"

Photo: Elad Zagman

The Jerusalem Opera is a non-profit association, debuting  with a Gala Event in  2012 and performing  "Don Giovanni", its first fully staged opera in 2013 at the Citadel of David. The Jerusalem Opera presents a full-scale opera production annually. The company’s present production of Mozart’s “Magic Flute” was performed both in Jerusalem and Ashdod. Directed and conducted by Omer Arieli, stage director was Monica L. Waitzfelder, assistant stage director - Ari Teperberg. The Jerusalem Opera Choir and members of the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir (chorus master: Oded Shomrony) were joined by soloists and the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra (concertmaster: Bella Portnov). This writer attended the performance on December 28th 2017 in the Sherover Hall of the Jerusalem Theatre.


When viewing this enchanting opera, in all its originality and splendid music, it is difficult to imagine how difficult Mozart’s life was at the time of the work’s genesis. Mozart had fallen on hard times: 1790 was a hard year, with the composer’s constant concern over money and his wife Constanze’s health, not to speak of his own feeling of not being fully appreciated. With no official commissions, the situation looked increasingly dire. His old friend, actor, singer and poet Emanuel Schikaneder came up with a suggestion - a play about magic, a subject that was all the rage in Vienna! And so it came about that “The Magic Flute”, their joint work, despite needing some time to be fully appreciated in all its depth, became one of the most popular and most performed operas in history. Whimsical and entertaining as it may be, with its motley collection of rustic and fantastical characters, the work expounds some deep convictions, with the triumph of good over evil and the serious scenes of the choir of priests – reminiscent of a gathering of freemasons –  the work is deeply imbued with humanistic idealism.

Monica Waitzfelder’s stage direction kept all the latter in mind as the cast and the very many people behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit recreated a world of beauty, magic and naivety (infused with some negative elements). There was much fantasy in the pastel-hued stage sets, lit by lanterns and populated by animals, large, lifelike puppets and some quirky costumes, such as those of the three Ladies, charmingly portrayed by Mima Millo, Noa Hope and Anna Peshes. One could say that, with simple means, the visuals of the production were attractive. There was a line-up of excellent singers - soprano Na’ama Shulman as an empathic, appealing and convincing Pamina, bass Denis Sedov as an imposing Sarastro and soprano Ayelet Kagan playing the part of Papagena with youthful charm. Tenor Semjon Bulinsky (Switzerland), in his debut with the Jerusalem Opera, played a steadfast, energetic Tamino. As Monostatos, tenor Jean-Christophe Born (France), a supple, limber artist, is portrayed as a lovable, buffoon-like fellow (a far cry from the original racist view of a black man who is not to be trusted). In love with Pamina, he is the typical loser, and more the pity!
'Everyone feels the joys of love,
Bill and coo, flirt, snuggle, and kiss,
And I am supposed to avoid love,
Because a Black is ugly,
Because a Black is ugly.
Have I, then, been given no heart?
I am also fond of girls,
I am also fond of girls,
Always to live without a woman
Would truly be the blaze of hell,
Would truly be the blaze of hell…’

Hungarian soprano Viktoria Varga made for a splendid Queen of the Night, her creamy coloratura voice soaring up and through the vocal registers with ease, certainly delighting the audience. As Papageno (originally played by Schikaneder himself!), baritone Samuel Berlad (entering the stage on a scooter!) shone, giving life, warmth and sincerity to the role of the clumsy, comical but amiable coward, his rich voice and fine German taking him through the feathered person’s naive gaffes to finally team up with his Papagena. The chorus, robed in gold, presented well-balanced and polished performance, with the Ashdod Orchestra offering fine musical support. .

One problem of staging “The Magic Flute” in Israel is the text’s large quantity of spoken German, quite a challenge to Hebrew speakers. Spoken sections were certainly articulate, but some of them sounded stilted and Teutonic. A huge undertaking, involving a host of dedicated people on stage and off., the Jerusalem Opera’s performance of “The Magic Flute” presented the opera’s marvellous music and fairy tale world in a most delightful manner.


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