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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Opera
The Tel Aviv Opera House
The Israeli Opera deserves local opera lovers' gratitude for rescuing the unjustifiably neglected Christoph Gluck from oblivion.
The only disappointing element of the company's latest production is that it chose Gluck's rarely performed Armide, which doesn't rank among the 18th century composer's many masterpieces. But while there are other Gluck works that may have been more deserving of a place on the Tel Aviv stage, Armide proved a treat, skillfully produced and cleverly staged by director/choreographers Avshalom Pollack and Inbal Pinto.
The opera is essentially a fairly tale, and the performance's chief hero ends up being Pollack and Pinto's original staging. Inventive and imaginative, the twosome have populated their stage with magicians, sorceresses and demons. Dragons' shadows projected behind the live performers are amusing if not particularly frightening, while the movements of individual cast members are consistently lively and elegant. The opera's broad physical humor, especially the pompous strutting of its medieval Crusaders, worked nicely.
Based on a Renaissance epic about Christian fighters battling the title character in the Holy Land, this staging of Armide leaves it up to the audience to draw parallels between the centuries-old story and the state of the contemporary world in which it's being performed.
The striking staging also helps to compensate for the occasional shallowness of Gluck's music. The Israeli Opera indulges itself here largely with Baroque conventions, leaving hardly any tension or uncertainty in the music. Toward the end of the production, however, the orchestra gained momentum, achieving an admirable level of emotional complexity and intensity.
Among the singers, Hila Baggio proved a pleasant surprise in the relatively minor role of Lucinde. Her bright, lovely soprano was sufficiently credible to make the audience understand why even a warrior like Ubalde would fall in love with her.
In the title role, Sophie Marin-Degor's forceful soprano and strong stage presence were frequently more frightening than romantic, helping to make clear Renaud's ultimate decision to desert her. As Renaud, Andreas Scheidegger's rather pale tenor served as a convincing reflection of this warrior's weak character and susceptibility to Armide's spell.
The Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sebastian Rouland, competently performed the not particularly demanding music, in a production that will be performed with Hebrew and English surtitles four additional times through its final run on Saturday night.