Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Soprano Niva Eshed Frenkel in the Israeli premiere of Hamuchtar's one-woman opera "Null Sterne Hotel"

Niva Eshed Frenkel (photo:Boaz Arad)
“Null Sterne Hotel” (No Star Hotel), a contemporary operatic theatre piece combining text, singing, experimental electronic music and video art, was created and produced by Gilad Philip Ben-David, also known as Hamuchtar. Translated by Miri Kämpfer, it features opera singer and dancer Niva Eshed Frenkel. It was premiered in Berlin in 2016, where it received enthusiastic reviews. This writer attended the Israeli debut of “No Star Hotel” at the Enav Cultural Center (Tel Aviv) on October 31st 2019. It was performed in German with Hebrew surtitles.

Actually, such a place does exist. The Null Stern Hotel, a former nuclear bunker converted into a hotel, opened in Teufen, Appenzellerland, Switzerland on June 5, 2009. It operated as a hotel for only one year, before being turned into a museum devoted to itself in June 2010. (“No Star” refers not to the hotel classification, but to the fact that “the only star is you”.)

The one-woman opera performance opens with the person (Eshed) waking up in a shady hotel after a night of bad dreams. From the text, bristling with questions about the state of a man returning, we might be expecting some kind of love story or perhaps one of a soldier returning from war. The show, however, proceeds as a series of meditations on different situations or topics - art, monkeys, syphilis, industrial design, beauty, banning entry to a house and photosynthesis, with Eshed reflecting on each, playing against the vibrant video action projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage. Are we witnessing disconnected scenes or are they, in fact, telling of her suicidal thoughts due to her past life and to one woman’s yearning for beauty and to be loved? Following her struggle, the opera concludes on an optimistic note, with the woman finding inner strength to go on. This performance is not for the faint-hearted: it constantly challenges the audience to think, listen, observe and be inside the issues that present life in the raw, as Eshed invests emotion in each situation. A soprano with a fine sense of drama and movement, she carries off the performance impressively, her strong, flexible voice dealing admirably with the complex, atonal musical score, the German text, an artist as aware of her audience as she is of the existential issues at hand.

This is a daring, gripping and insightful pageant of life, its hardships but also its beauty - the beauty of art and nature. Gilad Philip Ben-David (Hamuchtar) b. 1971, is a singer and cabaret artist who began his career in Tel Aviv in the late 1980s. He has played in various films, most notably “Amazing Grace” by the late director Amos Guttman, as well as directing his own films and theatre plays.

A graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, Israeli-born Niva Eshed Frenkel has been a member of the Israeli Vocal Ensemble and has soloed in Israeli opera productions. A member of the 3FOR1 Trinity Concerts (Germany), she sang the role of Christine in their production of “Phantom of the Opera”. She performs recitals and in a-cappella choral music throughout Germany, teaches voice, piano and music theory.

Photo © Yoel Levy

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