A polished sound in rarely performed pieces [pg. 24]

The sixth annual Red Sea International Music Festival, which concluded Saturday night after a three-day run in Eilat, features what no other local rival dares: an innovative repertoire based mostly on unknown works. For anyone accustomed to local classical music standards, listening to the musicians of the Red Sea festival was an ear-opening event, a pleasurable experience particularly when it involved the festival's flawless choir and the brass and percussion sections of the visiting Mariinsky Theater orchestra. Opening the festival Thursday in its Israeli debut was Rimsky-Korsakov's The Golden Cockerel. Based on a poem by Pushkin, this marvelous piece tells the story of a magic bird able to foretell the future. Sophisticated in its musical language and memorable thanks to the recurring call of the titular cockerel, the piece proved a true revelation in the hands of visiting Mariinsky Theater conductor Valery Gergiev. Of the soloists, the most notable performances came from soprano Olga Trifonova as the Queen of Shemakha, tenor Andrei Popov as the Astrologist and Alexei Tanovitski as King Dodon. The other soloists, to their credit and to the benefit of the performance, were almost equally impressive. The festival's second evening featured another rarity in the form of Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini. This three-and-a-half-hour opera tells the story of the title character, a famous 16th century goldsmith caught up in a tale of love, art and intrigue in the papal court. Although offering some wonderful music, this particular piece proved a little too long for the festive context in which it was performed. Nevertheless, one must also acknowledge the perfect reading of the huge body of visiting Mariinsky musicians, 280 of whom flew to Eilat from Moscow for the festival and who proved that they can play with precision even at 12:30 in the morning. (And in less than perfect conditions - Benvenuto Cellini was performed in a transformed hangar at the Port of Eilat.) Concluding the festival Saturday night was Verdi's colossal Requiem, the only piece in the program that didn't require some kind of introduction. Performed with just the right mix of grandeur and lyricism, the piece served as an impressive finale to this highly enjoyable event.