Thursday, February 28, 2019

"Musical Europe", an opera gala concert hosted by the Romanian Cultural Institute, Tel Aviv, features artists from Romania, Israel and the USA at the Jerusalem International YMCA

Photo courtesy Romanian Cultural Institute, Tel Aviv
On the occasion of the Romanian presidency to the EU Council, a gala opera concert was held by the Romanian Cultural Institute (Tel Aviv) at the Jerusalem International YMCA on February 19th, 2019.

Opening the event, Mr Marton Laszlo Salamon, director of the Tel Aviv Romanian Cultural Institute, spoke of the Jerusalem International YMCA as one of Jerusalem’s finest historic buildings, also referring to it as an “oasis of multiculturalism” and thus a highly suitable venue for the evening’s concert. He spoke of Romania, president of the EU Council from January to July 2019, as a country promoting tolerance, discouraging hatred, respecting equality, the Jewish minority and cultural diversity. The opera evening would be proof of this diversity, he said, with artists from Romania, Israel and the USA.  Mr. Eyal Ezri, Deputy Director of the Department of Culture and Head of Cultural Institutions, also offered words of welcome.

The program consisted of songs, arias and duets, all accompanied by Ukraine-born vocal coach Dr. Sonia Mazar. Producer and artistic director, Mr. Mircea Cantacuzino introduced the artists and spoke briefly about each of the works and their composers. The program opened with “Revedere” (Seeing you again) a Romanian Lied by singer, composer and professor of the Conservatory of Bucharest Aurel Eliade (1870-1941), a setting of a poem by renowned Romanian Romantic poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889). It was given an intense, resonant and gripping performance by baritone Valentin Vasiliu (Bucharest).  In a lighter vein, the audience enjoyed Vasiliu’s singing of the irresistibly sentimental Neapolitan “Ti voglio tanto bene” (I love you so much)  by Ernesto De Curtis (lyrics: Domenico Furnò)

Opera singer, recitalist, teacher.and cantor soprano Menorah Winston (USA) has had a distinguished career in Romania and Israel. At the Jerusalem concert, she gave a  moving performance of “Song to the Moon” (in Czech) from Antonin Dvořák’s “Rusalka”, in which the mythological water sprite requests to become human in order for the prince to love her. Winston was joined by Valentin Vasiliu to perform a scene from Act II of Verdi’s “La Traviata”. They presented the Violetta-Germont duet, in which Alfredo's father, Giorgio Germont,  demands that she break off her relationship with his son for the sake of his family. The artists played out the drama of the situation, with Vasiliu’s authoritative Giorgio challenged and mellowed by Violotta, as Winston gave credence to her vehement, pleading and noble sentiments.

An evening of opera is incomplete without music of Mozart. Soprano Maria Yoffe, who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine in 1996, has a distinctly silvery and powerful voice and a fine technique; her performance of Variations on “The Magic Flute” attested to these qualities, as she contended easefully with the concert piece’s arpeggios and large leaps. Israeli Opera mezzo-soprano Audelia Zagouri and Vasiliu engaged in a charming, empathic performance of “La ci darem la mano” (There we will give each other our hands) from Act I of “Don Giovanni”. In the aria, we witness Zerlina torn between Giovanni's exhortations and her fidelity to Masetto, her weakening resolve and the final dueting in thirds as the flirtatious Don Giovanni wins her over. Audelia Zagouri’s natural stage presence and stable, fresh voice were well suited to her coquettish portrayal of the youthful widow Norina from Act I of Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale”, as she sang “So anch'io la virtù magica” (I too know your magical virtues).

In a duet from Puccini’s “Tosca”, Vasiliu made for a convincing Scarpia - the corrupt, lecherous police chief keen to  manipulate Tosca’s jealous nature to snare her for himself - as Maria Yoffe portrayed Tosca, a celebrated singer entrenched in a situation of  horrifying violence and passionate devotion, resisted the advances of the villainous Scarpia in what was indeed a fine theatrical performance.

Graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Kira Zibnitzky possesses a  mezzo-soprano voice that is warm, rich and well-anchored. In "L'amour est un oiseau rebelle" (Love is a rebel bird) the provocative habanera from Bizet’s “Carmen”, its text counselling on the untameable nature of love, her portrayal of Carmen was a little too reserved and noble for such a free-spirited gypsy as Carmen. Zibnitzky and soprano Monica Schwartz joined to offer a lyrical, gently lilting performance of  “Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour” (Beautiful night, o night of love), the much-loved barcarolle that opens Act III of Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann”. The opera, set in a world of the fantastic, the uncanny and the magical, comprises three love stories. One features a wind-up doll called Olympia. Olympia sings just one aria "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" (The birds in the arbor), indeed ,one of the most challenging arias in opera repertoire, requiring a nimble, yet strong, lyric coloratura voice capable of incredible ornamentations and range. Monica Schwartz, her voice creamy, bell-like and gliding easefully into its higher registers, gave an impressive performance of the aria, entertaining the audience splendidly with her spontaneity, humour and theatrical flair, with Sonia Mazar twice required to wind the doll up for the show to go on!

Taking on board the large range of works, Sonia Mazar accompanied the singers with musicality, consummate skill and grace, attentive to every turn of the music, careful to give the stage to the singers and lyrics. I felt she could afford to be a little more forthright. The festive event was of much enjoyment to those attending.


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