'The Human Voice' in Rishon

For the eighth annual Rishon LeZion Aviv (Spring) Festival, starting Saturday night and running through April 1, some 20 shows, local and international, will be presented at the Rishon LeZion Heichal haTarbut - but not only. To cover expenses and bring in more shows, the festival organizers recruited other locales throughout the country, so that some festival productions will also see stages in Tel Aviv, Karmiel, Petah Tikva, Ra'anana, Holon, Jerusalem, Herzliya and Kibbutz Yifat. One can't trace a distinct artistic line uniting the shows. Some of are rather exotic, such as the salsa ensemble Sanmera (Austria/Cuba), the Gypsy brass ensemble Mahala Rai Banda (Romania), jumping drummers from the Baobab Circus (Guinea), the Egari male choir Egari (Georgia), and prodigy child (ages 11-18) conductors from Tashkent conducting the Rishon Symphony and Ra'nanan Simfonette. The festival opens with the premiere of the Kibbutz Dance Company's production of Rami Be'er's Power of Attorney. A new production of La Voix Humaine (The Human Voice), a one-act mono-opera composed in 1958 by Francis Poulenc after the play by Jean Cocteau (1930), was commissioned by the festival and made possible with the support of the French Embassy in Israel. Israeli soprano Michal Shamir performed the opera at Cocteau Festival in Germany several years ago. Director Julia Pevzner, who arrived in Israel from Russia some 15 years ago as a piano student and has since made a stunning career trajectory from waitress at the opera caf to international director with credits spanning the world, immediately agreed to sign on the project. The Human Voice is composed of a 50-minute long monologue by a woman abandoned by her lover. "It is amazing how these two men, Cocteau and Poulenc, managed to understand a woman's soul," says Pevzner as she rests after rehearsal in the park near the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. "It is true that Cocteau was fascinated by this new toy, the telephone, which allows you to talk to somebody who is at the other end of Paris. But all that is just a pretext to tell the eternal story. The woman tries to keep the man and lies about how well she is now that she is alone. She blackmails him emotionally. In the end, she admits that without him her life has lost its meaning." The Human Voice is a particularly difficult piece to stage, as it is essentially a one-way phone conversation. "Like in any other opera, two things are critical, the concept and the work with the artists," says Pevzner, who learned her craft straight from experience: because she could read notes, she was plucked from her cafeteria shift to replace a stage manager suddenly summoned to his reserve duty. "First, you have to decide how crazy this woman is - and I believe she is, meaning that this conversation is solely in her own head. Another decision is what happens to her at the end, because both Cocteau and Poulenc leave the end open. We do not know if she strangles herself with the telephone cable, or she takes pills, or she is doomed to live in an everlasting nightmare." As for working with the artists, Pevzner explains: "I do not tell people what to do. I can suggest and then we work it out together. Michal Shamir is a fantastic, intelligent actress, very good at improvising. This role demands not only vocal and acting abilities, but also life experience, something Michal has." Pevzner explains that Eitan Shmaisser, accompanying the singer on the piano, is actually a music director. "He conducts without standing on the podium or holding a baton. The music is moving, melodic, romantic and beautiful. There's also a lot of sprechgesang, which is very close to speaking. We are doing it with a piano - more intimate and more appropriate for the space we are using. In a huge hall, the connection with the audience gets lost." The Human Voice will be performed at the Rishon LeZion Heichal HaTarbut Saturday night at 8. For details about the festival visit www.springfestival. Reservations at (03) 948-8688.