Opera by design

The Israeli Opera presents ‘Dido and Aeneas’

A scene from The Israeli Opera's ‘Dido and Aeneas’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
A scene from The Israeli Opera's ‘Dido and Aeneas’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Opera, as we well know, is a fantasy world. Fans of the format will know that it sometimes takes quite a while, for example, for a fatally wounded soldier to finally shuffle off his mortal coil, and the whole genre is riddled with melodrama. But that lies at the core of the art form and lends itself to emotive expression that has been moving audiences around the world for centuries.
There is plenty in the way of fantasy, high drama and spellbinding visual antics in store in the upcoming production of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, which will run at the Opera House in Tel Aviv from June 1 to 11.
Much of the high-energy elements feed off the storyline, which tells the tale of a passionate, and ultimately tragic, relationship between Dido, Queen of Carthage, and the titular Trojan prince. Next week’s rendition has been doing the rounds of Europe for the past four years and was crafted by French couple Cecile Roussat and Julien Lubek, who multi-task their way through the positions of directors, designers and choreographers.
A quick peek at their respective CVs reveals that they are eminently qualified to fill all three berths and to do so in the most imaginative and relentlessly creative manner possible.
Lubek says that Dido and Aeneas offers a neat vehicle for him and Roussat to unfurl their variegated box of professional tricks.
“We use all our skills with this production more than in any other opera works we have done till now,” he stresses.
He and Roussat bring a plethora of acquired knowledge and natural gifts with them to the job at hand.
“Cecile and I started mime with [French mime artist] Marcel Marceau, and we come from that world. But we also come from the world of Baroque music. Cecile, my partner in life and on this project, started Baroque dance when she was very little and, quite early, she met Baroque conductors in France,” Lubek recounts.
But it is not just a matter of delving into all these areas of creativity. Roussat and Lubek soon realized there was artistic and entertainment added value to be had from deftly fusing their respective skills.
“When we finished our training in mime and drama, we worked with Baroque musicians on various projects, mixing music, singing, of course, and visual arts, as well as Baroque dance and the vocabulary of commedia dell’arte,” he continues.
Lubek notes there is nothing new in the disciplinary interface. It was just a matter of reviving it.
“In the Baroque era, all these arts were much more mixed together. Today, people want to put everything into little boxes. For us, Dido and Aeneas was a great opportunity to merge our love of Baroque music and our knowledge or our desire to create total shows where all kinds of artists and techniques can merge,” he says.
Roussat and Lubek soon realized they would have their work cut out for them to get the all-Israeli cast members fully on board. The latter include Anat Czarny and Tal Bergman, who share the role of Dido; Oded Reich and Yair Polishook as Aeneas; Daniela Skorka and Tal Ganor as Dido’s sister Belinda; and Yaniv D’Or as the Spirit. Ethan Schmeisser fills the dual role of conductor and chorus master, with the Barrocade Israeli Baroque Collective happily in tow.
Schmeisser feels that he and the rest of the behind-the-scenes and onstage cast are breaking new ground here.
“This production, for me, is a first local history in the making. This is the first real Baroque production of this size with an Israeli ensemble, choir, soloists and conductor. I am very privileged to be versatile in my repertoire and training, both as a conductor and keyboard player – mainly piano and harpsichord – so I can move freely between the worlds of standard 19th-century Italian standard repertoire, Baroque and contemporary [art],” he says.
There was a pretty steep learning curve to be negotiated in the run-up.
“We tried to direct the singers, also using our mime background,” Lubek adds.
He says he and Roussat were looking to lead the cast members into (Courtesy) out & about television 11 movies dining events highlights new operatic performance domains, thereby circumnavigating old tried and tested ground.
“During the rehearsals, we trained them in mime techniques and theater so that they could reach a symbolic way of acting, a stylized way of acting, and avoid anecdotal gestures or presence. For us, in this tragedy, this opera, there is no place for anecdotes, for everyday life moves or tensions. Things are way too complicated with these tragic heroes to allow them [the singers] to act like everyday people. Each step on stage should be symbolic and stand for something bigger than it is, and trying to see that the time and space are more concentrated than in real life,” says Lubek.
After all that, in a nutshell, is what opera is all about. In so doing, the director-designer-choreographer couple also get the members of the audience on board the onstage action by drawing them in, arousing their curiosity and getting them to figure out what certain visual elements are there to convey.
“That’s also the essence of the art of mime, which was reinvented by Marcel Marceau,” Lubek observes. “For us, that’s the essence of theater. It is the art of suggestion rather than showing. So you have to be able to suggest something and have the audience do the rest of the work.”
In addition to the high drama of the storyline, the audience at the Opera House will have plenty to keep them engaged, in the goings-on in the relatively short work.
“It was necessary to have very concentrated energy also on stage,” explains Lubek. “That’s why we decided to build the production with the addition of eight visual artists – dancers and acrobats – and to have the choir stand in the pit and be embodied on the stage by the visual artists.”
Lubek stresses that there is nothing gratuitous about the “special effects.”
“The acrobatic and mime dimension is not here to be spectacular just for the sake of being spectacular. It is here to enhance the tragic feelings of the characters,” he says.
Prepare to be perched at the edge of your seat.
‘Dido and Aeneas’ will be performed on June 1 to 11 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il.