Opera Review: La Juive

The overtowering stage personality was Marina Poplavskaya in the title role, a soprano of uncommon beauty who cannot fail to make one fall in love.

La Juive
By Fromental Halevy
The Israeli Opera
April 13
Halevy’s La Juive compels one to resist the temptation of regarding this opera as a reflection of 19th century European anti-Semitism, mainly because its plot significantly resembles Verdi’s slightly later Il Trovatore. That opera’s victim, likewise revealed as the count’s supposedly dead brother at the very moment of his execution, is a Gypsy. Not the hatred of Jews, then, but the hate of the “Other” - a part of that era’s spiritual climate in Europe – is the common denominator of the two works.
The Israeli Opera’s production was an excellent performance of a not-so-excellent opera. The plot’s absurdity, the music’s frequently commonplace sound effects, and the work’s superfluous length were largely forgotten thanks to David Pountney and Robert Israel’s imaginative, unconventional direction and sets, and Renato Zanella’s entertaining – though excessive – choreography. Moreover, the presentation mercifully spared the spectators the gruesome details of the execution.
This performance’s most outstanding element was the singers. The overtowering stage personality was Marina Poplavskaya in the title role. A soprano of uncommon beauty who could not fail to make Leopold – and not only him – fall in love with her; lovely, enchanting softness in the highest registers, coupled with forceful expression and intensity in the dramatic passages, made hers a captivating leading role.
Neil Shicoff’s dramatic tenor made for a strongly expressive Eleazar. His final, genuinely moving aria, in particular, was one of theperformance’s highlights.
An authoritative, bigoted, but toward the end also profoundly human andtragic Cardinal Brogni was made alive by Roberto Scandiuzzo’s dark,sonorous bass.
Soprano Annick Massis, in the role of Eudoxia, displayed effortlessly virtuosic breakneck coloraturas.
Robert McPherson’s lyric tenor, as Leopold, represented a credible,persuasive lover, though in voice and character not quite worthy of hisbeloved Rachel.
Conducted by Daniel Oren, the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon Lezionimpressively conveyed the work’s constantly changing emotional climateand forcefully accented dramatic effects.