Opera: Bible-based fringe

Dani Ehrlich's new production, Zman Shaul, examines the story of King Saul from his rise to power to his tragic demise.

'You could define this as mockaptation, a mocking adaptation of a biblical story," says stage director Dani Ehrlich about his new production, Zman Shaul (Saul's Time; it can also mean "borrowed time"). The hour-long opera by Moshe Zorman, with a libretto by Kobi Luria, examines the story of King Saul from his rise to power to his tragic demise.
Click for upcoming events calendar! "There's nothing derogatory in the word 'mocking.' But this is fringe, and I do not want to be pompous, to repeat what other people have already done. I love the magic of the opera from my childhood, and I believe that there still is a place for magic in this genre. But I want opera to step down from Olympus: I throw some of the dirt of life into my shows. I like to anger people just a bit." Zman Shaul - which came to fruition thanks to support by the Absorption Ministry - is a minimalist piece. Saul's story is told through the eyes of a cynical court writer. "I asked my stage designer Olga Sibirtsev to create kind of a cabaret of the dead. It is all built on the singers, and not on the scenery." Zorman wrote the original piece 10 years ago for a girls' choir, and it was performed at Tel Aviv's Schtriker Conservatory. It now features three young women vocalists - a soprano, mezzo and alto, who play different roles in their function as a sort of Greek choir - and two male vocalists who play the narrator and the king. "It is tragedy with humor," says Ehrlich. "I think pity is the only thing one can feel toward King Saul - a simple shepherd summoned to reign. He failed to understand power games. Saul was ruled and exploited by other people - first and foremost by Samuel, the Prophet of Wrath, who urged him to start the war. Saul was quite humane, for which he paid dearly." In his work, Ehrlich does not look for political satire, "not because I am apolitical but rather because the human aspect of the drama attracts me more. Yet I realize that some people will find political connotations. After all, the composer uses the exact melody of an old election jingle for the song 'Israel Waits for a King.'" (The biblical Saul was anointed king in response to the Israelites' demand that they be ruled by a monarch instead of a judge.) Ehrlich, 44, was born into an artistic family - his father, the important Israeli composer Abel Ehrlich; his mother, a painter. Having studied music, theater and painting, he went on to work as an actor, as a creator of theater puppets and as a writer. He choose not to join the artistic mainstream because, he says, he hates being told what to do: "Here on the fringe, I am almost totally free. Granted, fringe has its own problems, the lack of a steady budget being the first." With seven productions to his credit, the director strongly believes in the importance of an opera fringe center in Israel. "We have only one opera house in this country, which doesn't give opera people enough options, so that some support from the state would be great. But on the whole, I feel privileged to create opera here. To bring together five singers and five musicians, a stage designer and a producer, to work and laugh together - isn't it wonderful?" Zman Shaul will be performed at Jaffa's Mandel Culture Center on January 15, 16, 17 and 20 at 8 p.m. Details and reservations at (03) 681-4490 or 681-9294.