Monday, December 24, 2018

The Jerusalem Opera and the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra perform W.A.Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" at the Jerusalem Theatre

Photo: Efrat Mazor
The Jerusalem Opera’s latest production was W.A.Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte”. Established in 2011 by producer Manon Weizman and musical director and conductor Omer Arieli, the Jerusalem Opera aims to present opera productions of the highest quality in Jerusalem and to provide a platform for the promotion of Jerusalem and Israeli artists, new immigrants and young artists. So far, it has staged seven full-scale operas and a number of smaller productions. The present production was dedicated to the memory of singer Gilad Rosenberg. This writer attended the performance at the Jerusalem Theater on December 16th 2018.


“Così fan tutte” ossia “La scuola degli amanti” (All Women Do It, or The School for Lovers) K.588, Mozart’s two-act Italian-language opera buffa, was first performed on January 26th 1790 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, Austria. The libretto, written by Lorenzo Da Ponte (who also wrote libretti to  “Le nozze di Figaro” and “Don Giovanni”) was to be their final collaboration. Prompted by a cynical old philosopher Don Alfonso (Denis Sedov), two young men - Ferrando (Oshri Segev) and Guglielmo (Gabriele Ribis) - decide to test the loyalty of their lovers, sisters Dorabella (Aleksandra Kovalevich) and Fiordiligi (Elinor Sohn). As the unusual experiment gets under way, nothing unfolds quite as expected, as a series of outrageous events follows, with all assumptions and good intentions challenged by their unpredictable complexities. The opera’s original message offered a very dim view of women’s morals and even intelligence – extreme even by 18th-century standards - but its subject matter seems not to have offended Viennese sensibilities of the time. However, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, “Così fan tutte” was considered risqué, vulgar, and even immoral. After World War II, it regained its place in the standard operatic repertoire and is now frequently performed. In the Jerusalem Opera’s production, Ferrando and Guglielmo, when returning as Albanians, appear in whimsical animal costumes, possibly a touch to balance out the opera’s sexist approach...


The Jerusalem Opera’s “Cosi fan tutte” (stage director: Ari Teperberg) was an amiable, entertaining production, sparkling with energy, originality and visually very pleasing. With the focus on the singers and plot, we were saved from flashing, gaudy backdrops and video clips (so common in many of today’s opera productions) in favour of an uncluttered stage. There was a real aesthetic sense to the props - clothes racks, shop dummies, mirrors, etc., all wheeled in and out gracefully by dancer/actors Adam Shpira and Chihiro Tazuro. Costuming (Shira Wise) was contemporary and tasteful. But it was the splendid line-up of singers, all carrying about the same weight in vocal demands, that gave credence to Mozart and Da Ponte’s so-called “scientific investigation” of love. As the glamorous Dorabella, Russian mezzo-soprano Aleksandra Kovalevich showed herself at ease in every conceivable register. She was well partnered by agile Israeli coloratura soprano Elinor Sohn in a fine portrayal of Fiordiligi, arguably Mozart’s most complicated heroine and the more modest and longer-loyal of the two sisters. The sincerity of the sisters’ shared feelings was expressed in arching homophonic vocal lines, moving in parallel throughout. Playing Guglielmo, baritone Gabriele Ribis (Italy), no new face to the Jerusalem Opera (also as stage director) sang with honeyed fullness of tone, clearly comfortable in comic opera roles. Going from strength to strength, Israeli tenor Oshri Segev sang with natural, smooth clarity of sound without force, giving delicious edge to his mock-heroic love music. As Don Alfonso, bass Denis Sedov, the young men’s shady, cynical, underworld-type older friend, was slick and authoritative, his warm, substantial voice giving buoyancy to Mozart’s long melodic lines. As to soprano Mima Milo, she brought to the farcical role of the contriving maid Despina all her customary tonal finish and finely hued texture, while entertaining the audience with her natural use of the stage and waggish humour.


Also rewarding were the many wonderfully fluid, continuous duets, trios, quartets, even sextets, Mozart’s way of showing interaction between people. Under Omer Arieli’s baton, the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra gave the score elegance and stamina, bringing both lift and precision to the emotional scope of Mozart’s dramatic architecture. The chorus, too, gave a fine complement on and off-stage, appearing in the last act all dressed in chic black as guests at the festive double wedding.


The Jerusalem Opera’s production highlighted Mozart's ability to treat the most profound subjects with the lightest touch, as he delves into the hearts of his figures, using his sublime music to tell us about the confusing complexity of their emotional state. At the same time, Mozart is no moralist; he invites us to ride the wave of good humour in his wonderfully light, theatrical and sophisticated way. Kudos to the Jerusalem Opera for a superb production.

Maestro Omer Arieli (photo: Elad Zagman)

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