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The Israeli Stage Orchestra will dedicate its season opening concert Thursday night to celebrating the 300th anniversary of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's birthday. The program features a fully staged comic opera, La Serva Padrona (The Servant Mistress), as well as Pergolesi's Stabat Mater. Young vocalists and Kfar Saba Chamber choir, conducted by Aharon Harlap, will perform.
La Serva Padrona was originally written as a comic intermezzo to Pergolesi's opera seria (serious opera) Il Prigioniero Superbo (The Proud Prisoner), and while the latter has never been popular, the comic story of the cunning servant is still counted among Pergolesi's major operatic successes.
"I think that La Serva Padrona is the beginning of the very genre of comic opera," says director Daniel Ehrlich, adding that the characters are similar to those familiar to us from the commedia dell'arte. "Although there's no big story here, and audiences always enjoyed seeing how servants cheat their masters anyway, for me it was not enough. I tried to add some sophistication to the tale; one [twist] is the ongoing struggle between the sexes; the other belongs to the opera's finale."
La serva padrona isn't Ehrlich's first sortie into the world of opera; quite the contrary. "This genre has been tailored for me," believes the multitalented Ehrlich, who is an artist, musician, actor and stage director. Hailing from the family of Abel Ehrlich, one of the German composers who escaped their Nazi-plagued motherland to create new music in the Land of Israel, Ehrlich claims that unlike other stage arts, opera has yet to fully realize its potential. "I believe that the time has come for opera directors to have their word," he says.
And indeed, Ehrlich lives by his word. Sacrilege of the Magic, an ironic version of Mozart's Magic Flute, as well as Zman Shaul (the title means both "Saul's time" and "borrowed time"), by Israeli composer Moshe Zorman, staged several years ago at Mandel Culture Center in Jaffa, were among his first works. "Luckily enough, I always managed to find partners in my musical projects," says Ehrlich. "First it was at the Mandel Center, and then I met a music organizer Dina Zohar - together we inaugurated the Opera Camera Company." And yes, he cooperates with local orchestras.
THE NEW COMPANY, which Ehrlich says "which actually exists only on paper," has staged several works by Israeli composers - an adaptation of Eugene Ionesco's The Bald Singer, by Israel Sharon, Me, by Keren Hoss, and lately Ramai (The Crook) by Menahem Avidom, which is based on the story by Ephraim Kishon. In between, Ehrlich stages operas with the students of the musical academies of both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. His works are visually stunning, vivid, poignant, hilarious and very theatrical, but never heavy or pompous.
"At Opera Camera we also want to stage a classic repertoire, but again, doing it differently," Ehrlich explains. "The question is, what we are going to do here and now, in 21st Century Tel Aviv, which is so full of cultural events."
The charismatic Ehrlich, who combines Bohemian airs with pedantic discipline, confides that he has discovered a lot of acting talent in his singers. "But since we never have enough time, we work by the 'from outside to inside' system," he says. "I just tell them what to do, and in the beginning they often revolt or ask me why they have to make a movement to every sound. And I tell them, just do it and listen to what your body tells you. We humans are very dynamic creatures; we move all the time. In today's opera it's impossible to just stand and sing."
Ehrlich recollects how several years ago local music critic Noam Ben Ze'ev, despite praising his Sacrilege of the Magic, nevertheless wrote that the director was not brave enough in his message. "I am still grateful to him for that," Ehrlich says. "Because I adamantly believe that this is really important for a director today; not to create just another version of La Boheme or Cosi fan tutte, but to find a new aspect, a new layer of meaning in a familiar, or new, piece. This is what's important: what you are going to say; the feeling you want to pass to your audience."