Rigoletto, one of the most popular of Verdi’s masterpieces, is the closing number of the Israeli Opera’s successful season. The revived production of director David Pountney, which was originally created by this enfant terrible of the British opera stage in 1997, is a glorious one.

Pountney’s Rigoletto, with sets created by Stefanos Lazaridis, costumes by Sue Wilmington and lighting by Paul Pyant, is a visually stunning production that does not leave you indifferent for one moment, whether you like Pountney’s directorial language or not.

The cast is a high-quality mix of international soloists and fine Israeli vocalists of the younger generation. Taking the baton for the first time here is Italian maestro Daniele Callegari.

Callegari has a successful international career, dividing his time between operatic and symphonic repertoires. In the past, he served as the principal conductor of the Wexford Opera Festival and chief conductor of the Royal Flanders Philharmonic Orchestra of Antwerp. His opera repertoire features the basic Italian repertoire, such as Puccini’s Turandot and Tosca, Verdi’s Rigoletto, I due Foscari, Falstaff, Aida, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and numerous other operas. He has recorded many symphonic and opera works and conducts regularly at La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Vienna Staatsoper and the opera houses of Munich, Paris, Brussels, Toronto, Washington, Berlin and Venice, to name a few.

On a warm Mediterranean evening, Callegari – an amiable and very Italian middle-aged man – takes a break after a rehearsal day at a Tel Aviv cafe, sips some ice-cold juice and talks about music.

Italian operas, mostly those by Verdi and Puccini, are among his favorite. “I am quite known throughout the world as a conductor of the standard Italian repertoire, and by now I have conducted 18 operas by Verdi; but my dream is to conduct all 27 of his operas,” says Callegari with a slightly ironic smile. What is it about Verdi’s pieces that attracts him so much? “Verdi masterfully translated words into music. In his best pieces, every word sung on stage has the precise musical support,” he explains.

And how does the conductor work on the preparation of new pieces? “First, I read the libretto attentively. Then I go to the score, trying to understand what kind of piece it is. Does it consist of numbers or is it a musical story, which develops from the beginning to the end? And when I work with the orchestra and the singers, I try to reach this utmost correspondence between the sung word and the music. For me, this is what counts,” he says.

Speaking about his role in the orchestra, Callegari stresses that “a conductor is not a traffic light and not a policeman at a busy intersection who dictates the rhythm. I am here to explain my understanding of music to my colleagues in the orchestra. This does not demand immediate agreement with my ideas – but first and foremost the understanding, which is the starting point for the further development.”

The same goes for the conductor’s relationship with directors, whose stage ideas sometimes look bizarre, to say the least. But as long as the directorial solutions do not clash with the music, it is okay with Callegari.

“And anyway, an opera production is a complicated living organism, especially when we speak about revivals, like Rigoletto, and you have to be careful not to destroy this structure. So again, we can talk, we can discuss everything and find a solution that will suit to both sides,” he says.

Callegari says he is also attracted to French operatic repertoire. “In a way, in cultural terms they are our cousins. They just express the same ideas in a slightly different language, but it is close to me.”

Known for conducting the standard repertoire, Callegari tries not to slip into routine: “I enjoy conducting less familiar and less performed pieces. For example, there were quite a few very talented and almost completely forgotten composers after Puccini, and I am always happy to bring their pieces to the public.”

Verdi’s Rigoletto runs in Tel Aviv from June 30 – July 14.

Towards Opening, a preview presentation with the creators and some of the performers, with musical demonstrations from the opera.

Saturday, June 23 at 11 a.m.

Before the show back stage tours: July 2, 5, 7 & 12 at 6:45 p.m.

Opera Talkback: July 2, 11 & 12 For reservations: (03) 692-7777

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