The Israeli Opera presents a new ‘Nabucco’.
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
‘Opera is a dream,” sighs celebrated opera director Stefano Mazzonis di Pralafera. “People live in a difficult world. When they go to the opera, they go there so that they can dream.” Although the world he participates in is filled with divas and larger-than-life attitude, Di Pralafera is disarmingly humble. His love of the art form permeates every word and gesture, revealing a lifelong love affair that began at the age of seven.
“For me, opera was like an illness,” he says. “I couldn’t live without music.”
Di Pralafera is in Israel to conduct a new production of Giuseppe Verdi’s 1841 opera Nabucco, which will premiere this month as a co-production between the Israeli Opera and the Royal Opera of Wallonia in Liege, Belgium.
Though not his most famous opera, Nabucco was the most significant to Giuseppe Verdi. Of his 1841 composition, Verdi commented, “This is the opera with which my artistic career really begins. And though I had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that Nabucco was born under a lucky star.”
In fact, the essence of Nabucco is one of perseverance against oppression and adversity. Often referred to as the “Jewish” opera, Nabucco tells the story of the fight against Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II.
For more than a century, people around the world, taking on a different significance in each era and region, have adopted Nabucco.
“I have been aware of Nabucco since I was very young,” says Di Pralafera. “In Italy, Nabucco is an opera that meant revolution and unity for Italy. The famous ‘Slave Chorus’ of the opera became a symbol of insurrection of Italians against Austrian occupiers.”
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The opera, chock full of emotion and conflict, is very complicated to direct.
“There are so many different feelings in Nabucco, so many different physical attitudes. Getting it to come together on one stage is very tricky,” divulges the director. “I need for each and every singer to understand fully what the words and the music are saying. Each of them, in every moment, must be in Verdi’s music. They need to get into the role, to understand what’s happening at every moment.”
Di Pralafera goes on to explain the unique challenge facing opera performers. Unlike actors, opera singers deliver all their text in song, making it difficult to convey emotions using facial expressions.
“I always tell the singers that the body must speak. It’s not about just showing a hand or moving a leg; the body must show the emotion,” he asserts .
This skill is becoming more important with every passing year. As tastes change and fashions come and go, opera audiences grow more connected to the visual aspect of the production.
“Twenty-five years ago, the audience wanted to hear the show.
Today, they want to hear and see it.
The younger audiences want to see what’s going on onstage in a clear way,” he says.
As such, staging, costumes, props and sets are far more essential to an opera production than they were several decades ago. This version of Nabucco features costumes by Fernand Ruiz and sets designed by Alexandre Heyraud.
Having directed operas throughout the world, Di Pralafera is convinced that the Israeli audience will thoroughly enjoy Nabucco.
“In my experience, I have seen that every country and every theater has a different response to opera. Some audiences like only the classics, while others want to see something new,” he says. “Liege and Israel have very similar audience bases.”
The opera will be sung in Italian with Hebrew and English subtitles. A pre-performance lecture will be held in Hebrew an hour before each show and is free of charge to all ticket holders. Opera talkbacks will be hosted following certain performances.‘Nabucco’ will be performed at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center on April 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 24 and 25. For more information, visit www.israel-opera.co.il.
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