Monday, September 23, 2019

The Jerusalem Opera's ninth production - Charles Gounod's delightful opéra comique “La Colombe” plays at the Hirsch Theatre, Jerusalem

Avigail Gurtler Har-Tuv, Ofri Gross (Yaniv Nadav)
The Jerusalem Opera’s latest production was Charles Gounod’s opéra comique “La Colombe” (The Dove) to a libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. Noemi Schlosser was stage director. Omer Arieli conducted the Jerusalem Opera Orchestra. This writer attended the performance at the Hirsch Theatre, Beit Shmuel, Jerusalem, on September 21st, 2019. The Jerusalem Opera was established in 2011 with the aim of presenting high-quality opera productions in Jerusalem and promoting young Israeli artists. Sung in French, with Hebrew and English translations projected onto screens, “La Colombe” is the Jerusalem Opera’s ninth production. 

Composed within two weeks and premiered in 1860 in Baden-Baden, “La Colombe” is based on “Le Faucon” (The Falcon), a fable by La Fontaine; the title was toned down. becoming “The Dove”, in order to be more appealing to the opera public. An opera of modest proportions, it calls for four singers, no chorus and one set. Sylvie (Avigail Gurtler Har-Tuv), a wealthy countess, is desperate to gain possession of a dove belonging to one of her young admirers, the penniless Horace (Ofri Gross), so that she can compete with one of her rivals who owns a talking parrot. Horace steadfastly refuses to sell his bird. Having fallen in love with Sylvie, he invites her to dinner. He is forced to contemplate killing the dove to provide dinner for the countess. At the meal the countess is horrified to discover the sacrifice he was prepared to make for her, but all ends happily when it is revealed that the bird they have eaten is in fact her rival’s parrot. Noemi Schlosser writes that “La Colombe” has “a very funny storyline”, offering her the opportunity to “colour it with my imagination and add some unexpected side plots and comic twists”. For example, she gives the two original Commedia dell’arte servant characters - Mazet (Liesbeth Devos) and Maître Jean (Yuri Kissin) - a more active part in the plot. Theatre writer, director and producer Schlosser hails from Belgium, her work there having focussed mainly on Jewish themes and the place of the individual within society. She immigrated to Israel in 2017. 

All four singers gave dedicated performances of their roles. One of the most challenging aspects of this opera is its spoken French text, and there is plenty of it! No meagre challenge for non-native French speakers; all made an admirable effort, with Gurtler Har-Tuv emerging with flying colours. Kissin occasionally resorted to Russian, adding to the droll atmosphere of the piece! To Belgian soprano Liesbeth Devos, in her debut role with the Jerusalem Opera, this was, of course, an easier task. Her wholehearted, unreserved portrayal of the flirtatious and cheeky Mazet (originally a pants role) was complemented by fine opera know-how, both vocally and stagewise. As Horace, a somewhat awkward, inexperienced bachelor, Gross’ performance was both hilarious and touching, his rich, bright tenor voice pleasing and fresh, his facial expressions at times anguished, at others, adoring. Pleasing in his solid, stable vocal performance, bass-baritone Yuri Kissin, today making an opera career in both Europe and Israel, showed Maître Jean to be a clumsy, knife-wielding but amorous character, his dialogue on food with Mazet emerging as a play of double entendres.  Gurtler Har-Tuv made for a delightful and endearing Sylvie,. Served well by her high energy and bright, focused lyric soprano, she contended splendidly with the musical and theatrical demands of the role, as she gave charm, whimsy and vivaciousness to the sweep of emotions Sylvie undergoes within the course of the opera. In addition to the opera’s solo arias, the audience enjoyed its duets and hearty ensembles, a hallmark of Gounod’s writing. 

Schlosser’s production concept was Monte Carlo of the 1920s.The stage, furnished with an elegant white chaise longue and a rich selection of beautiful potted plants, was simple, effective and pleasing to the eye. Costumes (Liat Golan) ranged from conventional, to the somewhat different, to the imaginative (bird masks, feathered sleeves), to the exquisite, as in the use of flowers in Sylvie’s final outfit. An added attraction was having the orchestra seated at one side of the stage. Under Maestro Omer Arieli’s competent baton, the ensemble of strings and winds gave attention to detail, doing justice to Gounod’s melodiousness, euphony and light-hearted, colourful orchestration.

Performed with no intermission, the Jerusalem Opera artists navigated La Colombe’s two acts with unflagging energy, musicality and commitment; the audience appreciated Gounod’s appealing music and the opera’s humour and good cheer, leaving the Hirsch Theatre with a warm sense of satisfaction as the evening’s fine entertainment drew to a close. Once again, kudos to the Jerusalem Opera!
Yuri Kissin (Yaniv Nadav)
Liesbeth Devos, Ofri Gross (Yaniv Nadav)

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