The Jerusalem Opera is back

Productions of Le Mariage aux Lanternes and Une Éducation Manquée come to the Jerusalem Opera.

LENDING THE storyline a certain  welcome silliness with birdlike aesthetics. (photo credit: EVGENY YANOV)
LENDING THE storyline a certain welcome silliness with birdlike aesthetics.
(photo credit: EVGENY YANOV)
There’s nothing like a dose of sex, drugs, rock & roll to get the juices flowing and grab the public’s attention. And, while a couple of 19th-century French operettas may not exactly fit the above sixties antiestablishment mindset, the general ethos certainly informs the forthcoming Jerusalem Opera productions of Le Mariage aux Lanternes and Une Éducation Manquée.
Yes, the Jerusalem Opera is back, after the seemingly interminable pandemic-induced furlough, and back with a bang, with more than a couple of splashes of vibrant color, an abundance of humor – including of the tongue-in-cheek variety – and some fun, eminently hummable melodies.
The works in question will be performed at the Pisgat Ze’ev Performing Arts Center, on June 15 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., with another show at the Netanya Performing Arts Center on June 17 at 8:30 p.m.
The production blurb talks of a “joyous double bill Israeli premier performance” of the two operettas, as “the Jerusalem Opera returns and welcomes its audience back into a magical, feathered world of chatter, prattle, twitter and gossip.”
Sounds like a definitive escapism offering designed to ensure we all have a fun time and, hopefully, go home with a smile on our faces and maybe even with a tune or two on our lips.
Noemi Schlosser suggests all the above can be achieved with next week’s production, which also features the Jerusalem Opera Ensemble conducted by Jerusalem Opera founder Omer Arieli.
For starters, the Belgian-born director feels we could all do with taking life a little less seriously, especially after the past year or so and the more recent violence unleashed in these here parts. She firmly believes the local debuts of Le Mariage aux Lanternes (The Wedding by Lantern Light), a one-act operetta by German-born French Jewish composer and cellist Jacques Offenbach, first performed in 1857, and the similarly formatted Une Éducation Manquée (An Incomplete Education) by French composer Emmanuel Chabrier, unveiled around 20 years later, should do the trick. “The stories are rather silly,” she chuckles, “even sillier than the usual operetta.”
When she began conceptualizing the doubleheaders, Schlosser sensed the entertainment bottom line could amount to an added value sum of the parts.
“When you put the two together – these are two distinct pieces – when I got them I realized they could be glued together, with a few changes.”
The latter entailed some fine tuning. “By changes, I mean making it an ensemble piece. The first operetta had four characters, and the second had three characters. I have five characters all the time.”
The ambiance improv shift was facilitated by the introduction of an offbeat thematic visual line of attack for the works.
“Instead of turning all the characters into very silly people, I turned them into silly people who kind of reflect birds and animals,” Schlosser explains.
That left the director with generous poetic license. “That gave it this extra magical fairy-tale element that I feel these operettas require to get the silliness over to the audience.” It all sounds delightfully charming.
She went for a suitably rustic setting. “It all happens on a farm, so I made it a rooster, a dove, a peacock, an owl and the most silly of characters, the dodo, which is extinct, so we can expect, in operetta, for that character to be silly.”
The costumes make for a burlesque showing, with feathered friend accoutrements.
The ornithological rollout, naturally, put one in mind of Monty Python’s fabled sketch about the dead parrot which, the disgruntled customer notes, has “ceased to be,” among a seemingly infinite string of other expressions to denote the fact that the feathered creature has passed on. That may have subconsciously informed Schlosser’s thinking as she cheerily admitted she was conversant with the Pythons’ classic humoristic gem.
She also wove some comedic counterpoint into the show, enhanced by the deftly crafted plot-score equilibrium.
“There is a very fun duet of the two widows. One used to beat her husband, the other used to be beaten by her husband. But they tell that with the most jolly of melodies,” Schlosser laughs. “I turned it into something rather comical, with the peacock beating and the dodo being beaten. That makes you understand more the craziness of the situation.”
THERE IS plenty on offer for Schlosser, the singer-actors, and the audience, to sink their teeth into, and there is something of a left-field take on matters of the heart in both operettas.
Le Mariage aux Lanternes tells the tale of Guillot, a young farmer who has warm feelings toward his orphaned cousin, Denise, to whose care she is entrusted by their uncle Mathurin. The hapless young man, however, is not at all sure how to go about addressing his amorous intent, so he papers over it by dishing out some rough treatment to the poor girl. The wily uncle gets wind of the unhealthy state of affairs and deftly brings the couple together, much to the chagrin of the embittered widows. It all plays out along the lines of a cross between a comedy of errors and a melodrama.
Une Éducation Manquée portrays the awkward predicament of newlyweds who have little idea of how to go about consummating their love in the biblical sense. As the evening progresses, they discover just how woefully unprepared for their wedding night they really are.
Schlosser really lets her hair down this time out, making the most of the farcical elements in the works to create aesthetics that put the works, and the audience, well into the realms of the outrageous.
“Every character is not only in a bird outfit, but they are bird outfits in Marie Antoinette style,” she points out. “We will have very big dresses, wigs, feathers, all handmade by Liat Golan.”
IT IS getting a little more than tiresome to harp on about the pandemic constraints, especially now that they are largely behind us – hopefully for good – but the logistics of putting together an operetta show across the stop-start lockdown stretch made the already tight production schedule even more challenging.
“I got the OK for this in December to start working on it. I knew it was going to happen,” says the director. Of course, she didn’t know exactly when that would be, what with Health Ministry badges of various shades still very much in place.
But, even after theaters and other cultural venues were allowed to reopen for business, there was yet another disruption to the accelerated operetta preliminaries. “With Hamas interrupting us for 11 days, we were late on the costumes. Everything was ordered and everything was there, but we couldn’t do fittings because we couldn’t travel safely, and our costume designer lives in Jaffa, so we missed 11 days of fittings. We are working with historically inspired costumes. To make these big dresses by hand we first need to make them in cotton and after that in the expensive brocade.”
It was anything but plain sailing. “That really made us worry a lot. The designer is working, literally, night and day. She doesn’t come to Jerusalem, because that is four hours of travel for her, so our singers need to drive to her to have the fittings.”
They do say artists have to suffer for their art, but this is a little over the top.
THAT EBB and flow dynamic runs through the entire venture, including the director’s approach to the onstage action as the story line meanders through shades of fluctuating emotions, ambiances and resolve. “People are not always nice but, because of their character, I could turn things around. Because of their personalities as birds everything changes a little bit. Everything is taken out of the original context of the operettas, and I could really layer it up to make it way more deep and way more interesting.”
That is very much down to the passing of time, and the transitory nature of sociopolitical mores.
“They’ve aged, these operettas,” Schlosser observes. “With the rewrite and the staging, and the new impulses I decided to put in them, I don’t think we’ll feel that.”
Nowadays we are, she says, far more sophisticated, and some of the comic material of yesteryear just doesn’t pass entertaining muster in the 21st century. “Things that would have been funny a century ago, you know, now with television, with our access to theater and movies and social media, the rhythm and content are not always as relevant as they were back then. So the staging is not the same as when I read through the operettas the first time.”
And it wasn’t just a matter of calibrating the humor for contemporary audiences. Certain modes of behavior that may have been socially acceptable back in the mid-19th century are unavoidably taboo these days. “I wondered how I was going to do something without it being misogynistic, or how can I make this funny again after the Me Too movement? How can we laugh at those things that are now not, per se, acceptable to laugh about? But if I put it in the situation of birds, and change things, that makes it acceptable and even funnier. I really broke my head for three weeks how to make it work; and once I had my entry and how to take those characters, I started writing really quickly.”
As a French-speaker, tackling Le Mariage aux Lanternes and Une Éducation Manquée came naturally to Schlosser, and she says it should be a refreshing experience for her fellow co-linguists. But Hebrew- and English-speakers will be able to follow the dialogue by availing themselves of the relevant bilingual surtitles.
The director has previous experience of proffering relatively little known works to the public, having overseen a successful production of Charles Gounod’s La Colombe (The Dove) in 2019.
She has certainly done her best to keep us engaged.
“There are so many substories that I created, under the original. The main stories are very thin, so I had a lot of fun rewriting it in December, when my kids finally went back to gan [kindergarten],” she laughs. “There is a lot happening on the stage. This is fun.”
For tickets and more information: all shows – (03) 915-5632 and, Jerusalem – *6226,, *2912 and, Netanya – (09) 830-8811 and