Mozart’s forte in the fortress

The Israeli Opera Festival in Acre features ‘The Marriage of Figaro’

Opera night at Acre Fortress (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Opera night at Acre Fortress
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
If you’re going to go out on a limb, it can help to have someone you know and whom you trust in the vicinity.
By definition, any work of art must incorporate some risk-taking. By creating something, you are venturing into areas unknown. But Daniel Cohen has absolutely no qualms about going along with Itai Tiran for the ride. The escapade in question is a new production of Mozart’s everpopular opera The Marriage of Figaro, which will be performed in the courtyard of the Acre Fortress on September 10 as part of the three-day Israeli Opera Festival, with Cohen on the conductor’s dais. His longtime pal Tiran fills the director’s role. In fact, this is Tiran’s debut in the slot.
“We started working together seven years ago,” says 31-year-old Cohen, adding that their friendship and professional ties were sparked by a shared loved of English literature.
“When I was in my teens, I was obsessive about Shakespeare. I was away from Israel for a few years when I studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. When I came back, I saw that there was a production of Richard II – which is a play I am very fond of – at Beit Zvi [School for the Performing Arts]. There was someone called Itai Tiran in the lead role, and I remembered him.”
In addition to his evolving operatic and symphonic conducting duties, Cohen began pushing the interdisciplinary envelope when, in 2007, he established the Gropius Ensemble, which specializes in creating new artistic genres that draw on various areas of artistic enterprise, such as music, theater and dance. The ensemble is a vehicle for devising a new stage language.
Prior to a project based on Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale, Cohen found himself in a bind when, the day before the show, the lead actor had to drop out due to illness. He apologized profusely and suggested that Cohen try his luck with a young actor named Itai Turan who had just appeared in a production of Hamlet. Cohen recalled the student’s compelling performance at Beit Zvi. Tiran duly joined the Gropius Ensemble fray at the last minute and did the business.
“We had around five minutes’ rehearsal time together, and it went very well,” Cohen recalls. “It was love at first sight for all of us, and we immediately decided to add him to the ensemble.”
The chemistry was clear on and off the stage.
“Normally, each of us would work on our part and we’d just get together for rehearsals,” says Cohen. “But with Itai, we’d meet for coffee and we’d talk about texts that interested us and which scripts we should commission.”
The two young professionals had much in common.
“I was always strongly drawn to the theater, and Itai is very much into music,” he says.
Today, Tiran is the lead actor of the Gropius Ensemble. Both Cohen and Tiran are taking the interdisciplinary ethos of the ensemble into their work on the Mozart opera, too.
“The idea was not so much to work together as conductor and director on this work but to generate a synthesis between the arts,” explains Cohen. “Everyone who takes the stage in this opera is a singer and also an actor.”
That certainly suits Tiran, who has a fine singing voice himself and attended the music department of the Thelma Yellin arts high school and the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music before opting to devote most of working hours to thespian endeavor.
Presenting a work such as The Marriage of Figaro, which has been presented so many times all over the world and for so long, may be something of a sure bet. On the other hand, any opera director and conductor worth their salt will want to inject some innovative spirit into the shows and to get their audiences to sit up and take notice, as well as humming along with the beloved arias.
“We have had some time to dig deep into this work and to devise a fresh and young approach to the opera,” says Cohen. “I think this is a very original production.”
And it is not just the conductor and director who are so enthused about offering a thought-provoking and visually arresting reading of the perennial favorite.
“Everyone is on board with this,” notes Cohen. “Everyone is fully committed to this production. That goes for the members of the cast and the production people and everyone else. I have not seen such dedication to a project like this anywhere in the world for a long time.”
Despite being relatively young, Cohen is already an established member of the global classical music and opera circuit. The Netanya-born conductor has taken the stage all over the world and is currently Kapellmeister of the Deutsche Oper Berlin and music director of the Jersey Chamber Orchestra and gained valuable experience with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2013-14.
Cohen is delighted to be involved in the upcoming production and says he never tires of the Mozart work.
“There are all kinds of couples in the story, who represent different kinds of relationships and different stages of relationships,” he explains.
The operatic roles will be filled by the likes of sopranos Hila Baggio and Alla Vasilevitsky, baritone Oded Reich, bass-baritone Vladimir Braun and mezzo-soprano Naama Goldman Naturally, Cohen is primarily engaged in the musical side of the project.
“The music in this opera is so scintillating and rich. It is so moving to see how Mozart enjoyed this work himself,” he says.
The composer began writing music when he was five – but, says Cohen, it was always opera that got his juices going.
“He wrote lots of works beforehand, but he really wanted to write an opera in Italian, which was considered far superior to operas in German. He wrote this opera in just six weeks, and we have had six weeks to put the production together. That puts the creative process into proportion,” he observes.
It looks like the audience in Acre has a treat in store which will, no doubt, be enhanced by the alluring esthetics and ambience of the fortress courtyard.
The Israeli Opera Festival, which runs from September 10 to September 12, also features The Three Tenors in Acre “greatest hits” slot, with cherished arias from Rigoletto, La Boheme, La Traviata, Neapolitan songs and much more, with Gaston Ribero of Uruguay and Italians Domenico Menini and Salvatore Cordella, supported by the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra.
There will also be a show for younger patrons in the form of Rossini’s Cinderella, produced by Shirit Lee Weiss and featuring mezzosoprano Anat Czarny and baritone Gabriel Lowenheim, with soprano Tali Ketzef and mezzo-soprano Shai Bloch in the roles of the sisters. The script was translated into Hebrew by David Sebba, who also plays piano.
For tickets and more information: *6226 and For accommodation information: and