Opera: Updating a classic

The Jerusalem Opera presents ‘The Barber of Seville’ in a modern setting.

December 1, 2016 17:00
‘The Barber of Seville’

‘The Barber of Seville’. (photo credit: ALESSANDRO VILLA)

The Jerusalem Opera may not have a spacious home like its illustrious Tel Aviv counterpart, but it continues to keep its nose to the grindstone. Next up on the roster for the opera company is a new production of Rossini’s ever-popular The Barber of Seville. The instrumental element will be provided by the Ashdod Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Omer Arieli, and the principal vocalists will be supported by singers of the Jerusalem Opera Choir. The stellar cast features Italian baritone Gabriele Ribis; Russian-born bass Denis Sedov; tenor Oshri Segev; and mezzo-sopranos Noa Hope and Anna Peshes.

The audience will be treated to a highly polished show with an intriguingly contemporary visual backdrop.

Rossini’s beloved arias will be performed not in the streets and residences of the titular Spanish city but in a late 20st-century grocery store. Over the years, operas and Shakespearean plays, among others, have been set in all sorts of seemingly incongruous spots, but this one takes a juicy biscuit.

The man behind the concept and actual implementation, Italian stage director Davide Garattini, feels that the cultural and temporal move was part of a natural artistic progression.

“In order to give a wider range of expression to Rossini and to augment the fast-paced action, music and characters, I felt that bringing the scene to the 20th century, to a modern setting, would make it more real and charged with energy,” Garattini explains.

He says it is a matter of feeding off the roots while staying true to the here and now.

“I respect Rossini and the libretto, but we must remember that we are now in 2016 and that the audiences of the past are not today’s audiences,” he points out.

Garattini clearly possesses a free-floating mindset.

“I like to play with the libretto, to find new solutions that are not in the notes but can combine perfectly,” he says.

The stage director placed his own stamp on the work from the outset.

“You can take the overture of the opera as an example: I created a scene in which all the characters introduce themselves, and the audience can begin to understand the story behind each one. This was not part of the libretto, but this addition of mine does not violate any aspect of the opera, and the audience gets a bonus – a sneak preview of what is about to happen,” he relates.

Garattini likes to get the audience on board ASAP and to keep them there.

“I always try to bring the audience to total comprehension while maintaining their attention.

Sometimes I have to add a great deal, as audiences today lose their concentration very easily. I add things, but always with a specific purpose. Each item has its exact meaning, and nothing is left to chance,” he elaborates.

The stage director, of course, can have all kinds of progressive ideas as to how to go about presenting the onstage action to the audience, but he/she must never lose sight of the source material.

“The stage director arrives after the musical preparation,” notes Garattini. “Each production is different, and every conductor has his own interpretation of the music.”

It is, he says, a case of following the lead of the score while also seeking to generate new dynamics and introduce innovative tangents.

“I first study the music that is being played at that moment and the world created by the conductor, and I try to coordinate my approach to the approach of the conductor. Wherever possible, I work on the expression of the characters and try to augment these expressions with contrasts within the stage direction,” he says.

Garattini, a seasoned campaigner who has enjoyed fruitful synergies with many of today’s leading opera conductors, is a firm believer in a collaborative approach.

“In my latest projects, such as the production of The Barber of Seville in Udine and Trieste and The Pearl Fishers in Dubai, I was lucky enough to work with the orchestra conductors – Federico Santi in the first production and Donato Renzetti in the latter. They were present at all the staging rehearsals, and I was present at all the musical rehearsals, and we built the opera together. I am convinced that this is the proper way to work together for a unified result!” he asserts.

He enjoys repeat confluences with various conductors from time to time, and he also gets to work with the same singers. That, he says, can help to put everyone at ease and smooth the way to a polished end product. Of course, all concerned are professionals, so even if the production is a first time encounter for many of the cast, Garattini manages to get the job done to his satisfaction.

“It is certainly very important to be familiar with the singers. It is a fortunate circumstance that does not always happen. Luckily for me, I always succeed in creating a good atmosphere with the cast and my production team. I believe that it is important to work in a relaxed atmosphere in order to achieve optimal results. Of course, the ability to create staging with artists that one already knows solves about 30% of the studying necessary. Connecting the character with the singer is always easier when I already know the singer, but it is not absolutely necessary. In any case, I have my own concepts, and they are independent of who is in the cast,” he says.

In fact, Garattini brings something of a unique angle to his work, having gained plenty of prior experience in other associated areas of activity.

“After I finished studying theater set design and research in theater, I began working, 15 years ago, for the widely read Italian magazine L’Opera. The director of the magazine, [music critic] Sabino Lenoci, brought me into the world of opera and music critique. I had the good fortune to see many major productions around the world,” he recounts.

“After I had seen some very good productions and some less good, I began to think about returning to stage direction. I felt that I had something to say and that opera was the theatrical form in which I had the most to offer. Four years ago, I left journalism in order to be a stage director. It was a difficult transition, but I believe in it and in myself,” he says.

One suspects that the conductor, singers and, ultimately, the audience will go along with that.

‘The Barber of Seville’ will be performed on December 6 at 8:30 p.m. at the Ashdod Center for the Performing Arts; and December 8 and 10 at 8:30 p.m. at the Jerusalem Theatre. Tickets and information: Ashdod (08) 956-8111; http://www.mishkan-ashdod.co.il/ Jerusalem *6226; (02) 560-5755; www.bimot.co.il; www.jerusalem-theatre.co.il

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