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Opera is regarded as Western culture's highest art form, the original multimedia experience. A full production gives equal, majestic due to drama, music, song, visual art and often dance.
In an apt appreciation, Lincoln Center Theater director Andr Bishop notes:
"Music is the art form that comes closest to expressing that which is inexpressible, and its power lies beyond words. Good opera deals with issues that must be sung, and it addresses the need with the utmost respect and seriousness. The performing aspects of opera - the athletic requirements of classical singing, so different from the amplified pop world - are the last bastion of rigorous training. And the spectacle, the opportunity for startling visual imagery in front of which one singer or vast crowds of people make a huge volume of sound - none of that can be found anywhere else. Opera is clearly the only art form left where something larger than life can simultaneously be so human."
Unlike the pop culture that surrounds us, opera must be sought out. The Opera Europa association of opera houses is taking the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the genre's first masterpiece, Monteverdi's Orfeo, to organize on February 16-18 a Europe-wide weekend of guided tours, performances and meetings with artists designed to make the form more accessible to generations who have grown up unfamiliar with it.
The Israeli Opera, a member of Opera Europa, will join in. Next Friday morning at 11 a.m. it will offer a backstage tour of the Tel Aviv Opera House, a short concert of selected arias, and a lecture by Michael Ajzenstadt entitled "Who's Afraid of Opera?" Tickets are NIS 35.
The next day, Saturday, the opera will run four tours, starting each half hour from 5:30 p.m. Each of the tours (NIS 20) will present a different character from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffmann, the Teatro Real-Madrid production that opens in Tel Aviv that afternoon.
Following the performance, the local company offers its first Talkback Opera, in which audience members will be invited to ask performers and creators about the production.
Jacques Offenbach was born in 1819 in Cologne as Jacob, son of a cantor. He moved to France as a teenager to study cello, converted to Catholicism and went on to pen a long line of lively operettas that became the precursor of modern musicals and influenced the work of Gilbert & Sullivan and Strauss. Many of his operettas involve political and social satire and are rarely staged today outside France, though a few, such as La belle Helene, remain popular outside the French-speaking world. Toward the end of his life he composed his one grand opera, Tales of Hoffmann, which became a repertory favorite.
Tales is an allegory about the sources that inspire an artist's soul and the forces aligned against him. A young poet drinks in a tavern as he waits for the opera diva La Stella to finish her show and join him. In his tipsy state, he relates the stories of his three lost loves to his drinking buddies and encounters all three - the mechanical doll Olympia, the seductive courtesan Giulietta, the fragile singer Antonia - all of whom are manifestations of Stella. But she is spirited away by his devil nemesis Lindorf, and only his muse - in the form of his buddy Nicklausse - sticks by him to the end. The act dedicated to Giulietta, Act II, representing sensual pleasure, opens and closes with the famous barcarolle.
One way in which operas have become more user-friendly is by projecting translations as surtitles on a screen above the stage. As always, the Israeli Opera will offer both Hebrew and English surtitles of Tales, which is sung in the original French.
Tomorrow at 11 a.m. the company will hold its usual Saturday morning preview of the upcoming production, with excerpts from Tales performed by the cast and explained by Ajzenstadt. Tickets and details at (03) 692-7777.
Tel Aviv Performing Art Center, Sderot Shaul Hamelech 19