A festive year

This spring and summer will see a harmony of classical music concerts in the capital.

hamlet 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
hamlet 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If everything goes according to plan, this spring and summer will become a landmark in the cultural life of this city. Starting in May, nearly 100 classical music events, mostly operas, will fill the city’s concert halls, churches and open spaces with a dizzying roster of famous works and performers. With the Israel Festival, the Schusterman Season of Culture and now the Opera Festival of the Dead Sea-Jerusalem, inspired by last year’s outstanding success of operas performed at Masada, thousands of music lovers in the country and around the world are invited to come and enjoy.
The special production of the Israeli Opera, added last year as an extraordinary event for opera lovers – Verdi’s Nabucco at the foot of Masada – was a kind of starter.
Despite the high ticket prices, the extravagant production was an outstanding success.
“I’ve seen some of the best opera productions in the world, but I will never forget Nabucco at Masada,” said a French reporter who had come to Israel especially for that event. “In his opera, Verdi hinted at the struggle of the Italian people in the 19th century, but when I listened to the famous passage of the Hebrew Slaves, I couldn’t help but think of the current struggle for the freedom of the Jewish people. It made me shiver.”
It seems that the French journalist’s sentiment was shared by many. The Israeli Opera saw Masada and the Dead Sea as a natural setting for special performances of popular operas and made it part of the schedule. And since Jerusalem is not too far and is no less exciting a location, what could be more logical than to expand this annual special production into a festival? Thus was born the Opera Festival, which will feature some 50 operas – full productions and highlight concerts – between June 2 and 6, starting at Masada and then moving to the city. The festival is a cooperative effort of the Israeli Opera, the Jerusalem Development Authority and the municipality, aimed at putting Jerusalem on the map for arts and culture enthusiasts.
The Opera Festival opens on June 2 with a gala concert at the Sultan’s Pool. Under the baton of maestro Giuliano Carella, considered one of the best opera directors in Europe, the Verona Arena orchestra soloists will perform arias and duets from works by such composers as Verdi, Puccini and Rossini. The festival will close on June 6 at the Sultan’s Pool with an Israeli premiere featuring Verdi’s opera Jerusalem. The work depicts the journey of the Crusaders from Europe toward the Holy City to liberate it from the Muslims. Presented on the date of the second day of the Six Day War when the Old City came under Jewish sovereignty might be coincidental but very impressive. The opera will be performed by Italian and Israeli soloists, with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra under maestro David Stern (the Israeli Opera musical director) and staged by Moshe Kaptan, the Israel Festival’s newly appointed artistic director. The performance will be accompanied by a special lighting event to enhance the experience.
Some 30 concerts of chamber and vocal music will take place on June 3 in 10 venues around the city, such as Dormition Abbey, the David Tower Museum, St.
Andrew’s Scottish Church, the Sisters of Zion in Ein Kerem and the Austrian Hospice in the Old City.
Among the participants are the Jerusalem Camerata Chamber Orchestra, the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra and the Ankor Choir, the Bat-Kol Choir, the Vocal Ensemble and the Kibbutz Choir. They will play the six Brandenburg concertos by Bach, the Missa Criolla by Ariel Ramirez, concertos by Vivaldi, English Baroque music, songs by Bellini, Donizetti and a program of “Ave Maria” pieces.
All this will take place in the midst of the Israel Festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Born as a music festival in Caesarea in 1961 as a one-man initiative of Aharon Zvi Propes, it moved to the capital in 1975, by personal request of Teddy Kollek, who could not accept that such a successful cultural event could take place anywhere else but Jerusalem. This year, the festival will honor the memory of the legendary mayor at a special musical event in Sacher Park.
This festival has become the major and official festival of the country and has managed to maintain a high artistic standard, even through the difficult years of the intifada, which caused a significant decrease in the number of visitors and a rise in cancellations by foreign performers.
The 50th Israel Festival will present 50 events, from May 23 to June 18. A new premiere by Ohad Naharin and the Batsheva Company Dance will be followed by a rare concert by opera diva Dame Kiri Te Kanawa at the ICC.
Another program expected to attract a tremendous number of tourists from abroad is the final performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which will disband after its performance at the Israel Museum. And yet another highly anticipated dance event will be rendered by the Danish Dance Theater, featuring singer Caroline Hendersen, with choreography by Tim Rushton.
A special evening of Israeli classics, performed by Ahinoam Nini and guitarist Gili Dor, accompanied by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, will be broadcast live on the Mezzo European TV cable channel. And Israeli Ladino singer Yasmin Levy will host Greek singer Yannis Kotsiras.
The jazz side of the festival will host acclaimed drummer Bill Cobham on his first visit to Israel, as well as Japanese pianist and performer Hiromi Ohara.
As for the theater, the festival will feature such plays as Hamlet performed by the German Schaubühne theater, and a new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by the Russian Vachtengof theater. The New Andalusian Orchestra will salute Jewish-Moroccan pianist Maurice El-Mediuni for his 80th birthday.
For those who crave more classical music, the wellknown Hagen String Quartet will be here, while the ethno-classical-Jewish-contemporary spot will be filled by a new project led by oud player Yair Dalal, featuring cantors, musicians and the Telz Boys’ Choir from Vienna, who will play a musical work entitled Israel in Egypt – from Slavery to Freedom. This year, the traditional musical marathon of the festival will mark the 100th anniversary of composer Gustav Mahler’s death.
At a press conference held in Tel Aviv, festival director Yossi Tal-Gan announced that the NIS 14 million budget – mostly public money added to sponsorship from countries that are sending their artists on their tab – will enable the festival to offer tickets at significantly reduced prices.