If it’s Baroque, fix it

The Ba-Rock troupe performs chamber operas with a modern twist.

The Ba-Rock troupe (photo credit: PR)
The Ba-Rock troupe
(photo credit: PR)
Internationally acclaimed computer scientist Ehud Shapira admits that what has happened is not clear to him. On January 9, he and his musical friends from Ba-Rock Ensemble will inaugurate a new concert series – three modern renditions of Baroque operas. The first in the Ba-Rock series is Soft Drugs and Hard Liquor: The 1960s Version of Bach’s ‘Coffee Cantata.’ Shapira, a bass-baritone, will perform the role of a rather conservative father who sips his whiskey and tries to convince his daughter (played by soprano Yeela Avital) that there is nothing good about smoking marijuana. The bartender, violinist Gilad Hildesheim, together with harpsichordist Yizhar Karshon (who also is the narrator and fiancé of the wayward girl), participate in the extravaganza.
Cleverly staged by Shirit Lee Weiss, the opera will be performed at the Piano in Nataf hall (and on January 14 at Shtriker in Tel Aviv and January 16 at Mishkenot Sha’ananim in Jerusalem).
Shapira finds this all hard to explain. He remembers how at age 11, after being expelled from a boys’ choir, he decided to give up the thought of a vocal career.
For about 30 years he kept his word and remained silent.
Granted, he always loved music, Bach in particular, and recently married leading Israeli pianist Revital Hachamov. In addition to performing in major concert halls in Israel and abroad, she runs chamber music concerts in their Nataf home in the framework of the Piano in Nataf concert series.
Shapira studied math and computer science in Israel and the US, created and sold a start-up company and has been working at Weizmann Institute for almost 30 years. But as it is well known, true love never dies. After taking singing lessons, first privately with E’ela Avital and other teachers, he entered the Jerusalem Music and Dance Academy.
“I slowed down my scientific activities and for a couple of years and spent three days week in my office and two at the academy,” Shapira recounts.
Soon he got a chance to apply his newly acquired artistic skills.
“Two years ago, an international scientific conference was held at the Weitzmann Institute, and I hosted it. Several important guest were coming from Italy, so we decided to prepare a surprise for them,” he says The surprise was La Serva Padrona, a one-act comic opera by Pergolesi, revamped with an academic rendition. So the Master – a not-so-young and quite wealthy Umberto – became a professor, for whom there was no life beyond the walls of his lab. And Serpina, a servant turned mistress, was changed into his assistant, a beautiful young girl who knew how to handle men, wanted to marry her boss and, of course, succeeded in her mission.
“It was a sweeping success, far beyond our wildest dreams,” Shapira recalls, “so we decided to continue, and soon Soft Drugs and Hard Liquor: The 1960s Version of Bach’s ‘Coffee Cantata’ followed.”
Shapira collaborated with several artists (Estonian violinist cum conductor Andres Mustonen participated in the first version of the Coffee Cantata), but it looks like the core team has been formed. The third piece in the series will be Bach’s burlesque Peasant Cantata “We have a new governor,” says Shapira, “who is suited to the middle-class problems of today.”
When asked about the choice of pieces, Shapira explains: “There were both artistic and practical considerations behind it.
These are chamber operas with beautiful music and hilarious texts, which could be performed by a small group like ours. We don’t change one note of music or one word in the text, and we sing in the language the pieces were written. But with the help of Shirit Lee Weiss’s witty directorial work, we can bring these old gems closer to the audiences of today. I also think that they can attract those who are not in the habit of listening to Baroque music or listening to classical music at all,” he says.
For more details, visit www.ba-rock.co.il. For tickets, call *8023