All about the inner fire

Spirited conductor Daniel Oren makes 'Madame Butterfly' his own.

daniel oren 88 (photo credit: )
daniel oren 88
(photo credit: )
'An audience comes to the opera hall for the emotional experience," says conductor Daniel Oren as he stretches out on a leather sofa in the conductor's room at Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium. Oren has just completed a rehearsal of Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly with the Israel Philharmonic. His elderly father looks on at his world-renowned son with pride as Oren's new young wife and their 2-year-old daughter exit the room. To say Oren is exhausted from his efforts would be an understatement. The maestro pushes himself to the limit in rehearsals, but still finds the energy to reflect on his latest endeavor, which will be performed throughout May in Tel Aviv and Haifa. "People want emotions and we give them to the audience," he says. There is no doubt that Daniel Oren ignites the public's imagination. He knows his m tier perfectly and enjoys full command of the musical forces at his disposal. So does he possess any special secret? "Not at all. You just need to love music and to work hard. I remember working with a choir once, which initially sounded poor. But after a week of rehearsals they sounded fantastic." Anything else? "I think it's all about the fire...the inner fire of a conductor. I felt this fire inside me for the first time at the age of 13 when I sang the 'Chichester Psalms' by Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein himself conducted the piece. At that age, [I was quite excited by the opportunity]. When I started taking conducting lessons with Eitan Lustig, he tried to calm me down a little. And then my late mother stepped in - a powerful and charismatic personality. "'Herr Lustig,' she said. 'Don't try to change my son, because this is his nature.' Of course she added that since she pays for the lessons, she will decide how her son should be taught." A TALL, even towering figure, Daniel Oren conducts with his entire body. He jumps on the podium, shakes his curly head of hair vehemently, and makes propeller like movements with his long arms. Are the exaggerated gestures just another gimmick to draw an audience? "No. I'm not even aware that I do it," Oren insists. "I just get carried away. This [internal] fire is stronger than me. Sometimes, when I am tired or feel badly, I come on the podium and tell myself, 'OK, this time we shall perform on a smaller scale.' Nevertheless, I always perform [at full blast] - I do not belong to myself." Originally Adriana Lecouvreur, an opera by Cilea, was announced for this IPO season. It was cancelled for technical reasons and replaced with Madame Butterfly, the heart-rending story of an American navy officer who abandons his "temporary" Japanese wife when he returns to his homeland. When he visits Nagasaki a few years later with his American wife, the young Japanese woman commits suicide. "Granted, the orchestra and the conductor are important in opera, but the cast is essential," Oren relates. "And as you probably know, today the top singers are booked for four years in advance. There is no way to find good performers just a few months before the concert. So I had to find an opera suited to the existing cast. Madame Butterfly was my choice, and Michaela Carusi, a young soprano with a globe-trotting career, sings the title role." Many people today feel Puccini's music borders on schmaltz... even kitsch. "I know that," replies Oren with a grimace of disgust. "There are new snobs among opera house managers. But the audience loves Puccini. "The richness of his palette, his orchestration, and above all - his ability to speak softly [attracts me to him]. You do not need to scream to say something important. To conduct Puccini, one needs a big heart." Can you compare a concert performance of an opera to a fully-staged performance in an opera house? "Technically, both versions have their problems. From the pit, the conductor can hardly hear the singers on stage, you just see them opening their mouths. And if you have a director who understands nothing about music, you have a real problem. "But I think a concert performance is better," says Oren, "because you can enjoy the music without being distracted by costumes and decorations!" The IPO conducted by Daniel Oren will perform Puccini's 'Madame Butterfly' May 11, 13, 20 and 25 in Tel Aviv and May 22 in Haifa.