vi Klemberg has waited a long time to come here to work. The 36-year-old Jewish opera singer hails from France but has strong ties with this country.
“I have been here many times, since I was a child,” he says, “but this is the first time as a professional.”
Klemberg is a tenor and will perform the role of Ruggero in Puccini’s La Rondine at the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv, between January 9 and January 24, sharing singing duties with Serbian-born German tenor Zoran Todorovic. In all, there will be 12 performances of the opera.
La Rondine is one of the Italian composer’s more left-field works in terms of the storyline, the setting and the circumstances surrounding the evolution of the opera. Puccini deliberated for a while over the work’s temporal position, originally placing it in the mid-19th century but eventually going for a fully contemporary slot in the 1920s.
The opera was commissioned by the directors of Vienna’s Carltheater in 1913, who instructed the composer to write a Viennese operetta. The idea was that it should take the form of a comic opera in the style of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier , which premiered two years earlier. The Carltheater honchos asked for the Puccini work to be “more entertaining and more organic.”
Then a cataclysmic global event intervened, and although Puccini got down to the task and completed the score by 1916. With World War I raging, the premiere had to be relocated from Vienna – which was on the other side of the war from Italy – and eventually took place in Monte Carlo in 1917. Interestingly, although the first showing elicited an enthusiastic response from the audience, over the years La Rondine did not do particularly well at the box office.
However, there was a revival of interest in the work when it was performed as part of a 1958 event marking the centenary of Puccini’s birth at the Teatro di San Carlo at Naples, which staged a revival of La Rondine , at that time one of Puccini’s least-performed operas. Audiences and critics deemed the centenary production a great success.
The opera, set in Paris of the early 20th century, opens with a cocktail party hosted by the courtesan Magda, who is described as being a free spirit, as free as a swallow – rondine in French. Poet Prunier is holding sway, expounding his theories on love, and Magda’s friends playfully mock him, while Lisette, Magda’s maid, tells him he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Prunier takes offense, and Magda orders Lisette to leave.
Ruggero, a newcomer to Paris, drops by before leaving for a hot spot in downtown Paris, where he eventually meets Magda again, although she is in disguise and he does not initially recognize her. The two duly fall in love, although there is to be no happy end for the lovers.
Klemberg says he is delighted to have the opportunity to play the role of Ruggero, which he says brings its own challenges.
“Sometimes [as Ruggero], I can try to be more simple or sometimes I want to take my time [with the singing] and sometimes faster. It is a challenge but also very stimulating. I hope very much the audience enjoys that,” says the tenor.
Klemberg admits to having a weak spot for La Rondine , in which he performed for the first time in France a couple of years ago.
“I cannot understand why people prefer to see La Boheme or Tosca or another Puccini opera because this is a very interesting opera,” he notes. “It is such a beautiful opera – the music and the story. For me, this is a great Puccini opera.”
His enthusiasm for the work clearly has no bounds.
“When you hear the orchestra playing the music, you feel a great energy in your body,” he says. “You feel so happy.”
The tenor also enjoys the Viennese- Parisian cross-cultural elements of the opera. There is a generous dose of waltz numbers in the score, and the French capital is presented in something of an idealized romantic way.
“There is a Viennese moment in the opera, and you also feel the whole of Paris. You feel it in the music,” he adds.
“The mixture of Paris and Vienna is very original, and you can feel the old Paris.
The costumes and sets of this production are also very beautiful. I think the audience will like that, too.”
The tenor says he has a penchant for Puccini’s music.
“When you sing his music, you feel your voice swimming with the orchestra. It’s like the aria in Tosca , ’Lucevan le stelle.’ When the tenor sings it, the orchestra plays with the voice.
When I sing that aria with the orchestra, I feel so happy. It’s hard to explain. It is an extraordinary feeling,” he says.
Klemberg, who spent about a month here in the run-up to the performances of La Rondine, says he feels quite at home in Israel.
“I have family living near Tiberias, and I know some Hebrew,” he says. “It has been my dream for a long time to come to Israel to sing. It is a wonderful experience for me to come here to work. I hope it happens many times in the future.”
In addition to Klemberg, the cast includes Romanian sopranos Angela Gheorghiu and Aurelia Florian, who will share the role of Magda; Klemberg’s compatriot tenor Luca Lombardo; Romanian tenor Marius Brenciu as Prunier; and Russian-born bass-baritone Vladimir Braun as Rambaldo.
French conductor Frédéric Chaslin, no stranger to the Israeli Opera, will alternate with Eithan Schmeisser, with fellow Frenchman Nicolas Joel in the director’s seat, with revival director Stephane Roche also in the sizable French contingent.For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il