Verdi's masterpiece Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) makes its Israel debut this Thursday. Second in the great opera composer's trio of most popular pieces - right after Rigoletto, together with La Traviata - the dark drama of mystery, love and mistaken identity has, surprisingly, never been staged here before.
In this Stephen Lawless-directed production at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, Massimiliano Stefanelli (familiar to local opera aficionados from the past season's La Traviata) will be conducting, replaced on the podium by young Israeli maestro Omer Welber for several evenings. The roster of soloists includes singers known for their specialization in Verdian pieces, such as American soprano Michele Crider and Italian Annalisa Raspaglios; Italian tenor Piero Capucilli (who appeared recently in Israel Opera productions such as Riccardo in Ballo in Maschera and Canio in Pagliacci); as well as his Russian counterpart Vladimir Kuzmenko; renowned Georgian mezzo-soprano Tea Demurishvili; and Israeli's Svetlana Sandler and Vladimir Braun.
EARLIER THIS WEEK the Israeli Opera starts its Roaming Opera series, the latest in its line of community-oriented projects aimed at bringing opera to those who are far from this magnificent art form both geographically and culturally. Between January 6 and 17, it will present Rossini's vivid comedy La Cenerentola in Haifa, Jerusalem, Ashkelon and other non-Tel Aviv locales.
Actually, the performances have already started in the framework of the culture basket for schoolchildren, but now the ticket-buying public will be able to see it as well.
While Israeli opera singers have given concerts in locales as remote as Katzrin in the Golan Heights, and joined together with the residents of neighborhoods - such as Hatikva in Tel Aviv and Gilo in Jerusalem - not ordinarily associated with this European genre, this is the first time it will present a fully staged, professional production.
"I see it as a mission," says singer/conductor David Zebba. "To bring opera with all its beautiful scenery as far as, say, Kiryat Malachi - it means something. I have been lucky to represent the Israeli Opera in many projects, and I really salute this institution for its ongoing efforts. More than just opera, more than just art, this is real Zionism."
The multi-talented Zebba, who has also translated the libretto into Hebrew, says he approaches the task of translation as a musician: "I never try to guess which word suits the music because, lengthwise, many words fit. Instead, I wonder which phrase could have caused the composer to create this or that melody."
The production has been abridged to an hour and a half. "For the first encounter with the genre, this is enough. But we are devoted to the piece because this is the idea: to bring Rossini at his best to the place where he is not familiar," emphasizes Zebba, who appears on stage as Alidora, a former tutor to the prince, the opera's substitute for the tale's fairy godmother. Rossini's take on the tale relies less on magic than does the traditional one. For example, in his opera, the prince changes places with his valet to find a bride who will marry him for himself and not his exalted status.
"We made it a point to present his virtuoso music as is. As for the story, we changed nothing: it all happens in Wonderland; it could be yesterday or a thousand years ago."
Rakefet Levi, better known as a stage designer, made her directing debut with La Cenerentola (Cinderella). "We argued quite a lot but also made art together - this is how it works," smiles Zebba. Lighting legend Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi), the Israeli Chamber Orchestra, and local soloists Bracha Kol, Shirli Hod, Shira Raz, Yosef Aridan take part as well.
While opera productions held at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center always offer English as well as Hebrew surtitles, this family-oriented production will be sung, as noted, in Hebrew, and only Hebrew surtitles will be projected.
Cinderella will be staged Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Haifa Auditorium; Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theater's Sherover Auditorium; Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Holon Theater; January 14 (6 p.m. at the Kfar Saba Cultural Center; and January 17 (at 6 p.m.) at the Ashkelon Cultural Center. Tickets cost NIS 129.