All too human

The opera ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ is an 80-minute piece that features only three characters and a choir.

THE TORMENTED ARTIST 370 (photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
(photo credit: Yossi Zwecker)
The Israeli Opera’s next installment is the tragic Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck. This Baroque piece, which offers an insightful look at the tormented soul of the artist who is ever searching for his muse, tells the mythological story about the singer /poet Orpheus whose wife dies, and he receives a second chance from the gods to bring her back to the land of the living.
Premiered in Venice in 1776, Orfeo ed Euridice was first performed at the Israeli Opera in 1991. It now returns to Tel Aviv in a new production, staged by renowned Polish director Mariusz Trelinski and conducted by the Israeli Opera’s artistic director David Stern, who specializes on Baroque music. The entire cast is comprised of young Israeli singers, something that was unthinkable 20 years ago. The opera features only three characters: Orfeo (Yaniv d’Or/Alon Harari), Euridice (Hila Baggio/Claire Meghnagi), and Amor (Hila Fahima/Dana Marbach). The Israeli Opera Chorus and the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezion participate in the production. The opera is sung in Italian, with surtitles in English and Hebrew.
Alon Harari, 30, one of the performers of the role of Orfeo, started his vocal studies at 17 as a tenor, His first problems appeared three years later: “My upper register always sounded rather feminine, and the more I studied, the less masculine my voice became,” he says. One day his teacher confided to him that she simply didn’t know what to do about it and simply handed him the notes of a song written for a woman’s voice and said, “Just sing it!”
“Surprisingly enough, I was able to sing it, and a week later I already could not sing as a tenor. Obviously, my vocal chords, after finding their true vocation, refused to sing anything else,” he says.
Harari graduated from the Tel Aviv Music Academy and studied in Berlin. He reached the finals in two major vocal competitions – the Francisco Vinas competition in Barcelona and the Musica Sacra in Rome.
“About 300 to 500 vocalists participate in these competitions, and only 15 to 20 get to the final stage,” he says. “In the Musica Sacra, I was the only countertenor in the final round.”
Harari was under 25 when he first sang Orfeo in an international production in Vilnius, Lithuania. But his true operatic start were performances in the German cities of Munster and Dortmund at age 26, as well as his participation in Halle Handel Festival. He spent the winter of 2011-12 in Helsinki, singing Tolomeo in the Finnish National Opera production of Handel’s Julius Caesar.
“I mostly sing in Baroque operas, and mostly in those by Handel because, luckily enough, he wrote them a lot, so there always is a Handel opera being staged here or there,” laughs Harari, “and I always have a job.”
Speaking of his attraction to Baroque operas, Harari explains that they are never boring: “There usually is a lot of action in the plot. Julius Caesar in Helsinki, where I appeared with another Israeli soprano singer Claire Meghnagi, was sheer fun. No props, but a lot of costumes – I think I had eight costume changes during the show, and there was the lighting designer, who worked with Lady Gaga!”
Countertenor parts (originally intended for castrato altos) first appeared in the mid-18 century. There are still a few small parts in Mozart operas, but then a 150- year hiatus followed. “But lately, composers show a lot of interest in the countertenor voice, and next year in Warsaw I will sing Lament for Jerusalem by John Tavener,” says Harari Unlike traditionally larger-than-life, five-hour Baroque operas, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is an 80-minute little gem, featuring only three characters and a choir. The story deals with human beings, not kings or angels.
“This is a simple story that can happen at any time in any place to any person: Orfeo’s wife dies on their wedding day. There are no fireworks or superficial effects in Gluck’s music.
Rather, it is built on nuances, so it is not by chance that it has become one of the most frequently performed operas. Our cooperation with director Mariusz Trelinski is captivating. With him, we go to the basics of acting, and he demands the utmost sincerity from us. He wants our souls to be naked on stage, making it impossible for there to be any falseness in front of the audience. This is why I think the show will be highly successful.”
Harari adds that he is happy to perform for the first time at the Israeli Opera. “Our opera house is like a family, and after rehearsals you return home, not to a hotel room or an opera apartment, and that makes a big difference.”
Orfeo ed Euridice runs until May 22, with a few additional programs. The Towards Opening preview presentation: May 12 at 11 a.m. Before the show back stage tours: May 15, 16 & 20 at 6:45 p.m; and Opera Talkback: May 15, 16, 20 & 21.