Murderous politics: the Israeli Opera presents ‘A Masked Ball’

The opera Un ballo in maschera (A Masked Ball), a masterpiece by Giuseppe Verdi, is the next production of the Israeli Opera.

'A Masked Ball' (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
'A Masked Ball'
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)

A story of love, hate and revenge, Un ballo in maschera is an opera in three acts that revolves around the assassination in 1792 of King Gustav III of Sweden, who was killed as the result of a political conspiracy against him.

He was shot while attending a masked ball and died 13 days later.

But to become the Un ballo in maschera as we know it today, Verdi’s opera had to undergo significant transformations due to censorship regulations in Naples and Rome, as well as the political situation in France during that time.

In the 20th century, especially after a 1935 production of the opera in Copenhagen, many modern stagings have restored the original Swedish setting and characters’ names. The opera has become a staple of the operatic repertoire and is performed frequently.

The Israeli Opera production is staged by the internationally acclaimed Polish director/designer/ playwright Michal Znaniecki, who will return to Israel later this year to stage the larger-than-life production of La Traviata at the foot of Masada. This is not Znaniecki’s first foray in Israel nor conductor Daniele Caligari’s, who will lead his musical forces through Verdi's masterpiece.

“I'm a Verdian, a true fundamentalist,” says Caligari as he takes a rest in the conductors’ room at the Opera House in Tel Aviv after a rehearsal. “My dream is to conduct all 27 of his operas.

In the meantime, it is going pretty well. I am happy to say that I had the great opportunity of celebrating Verdi’s bicentenary with three huge productions: Il Trovatore with a wonderful cast at the Metropolitan in New York; Aida in San Diego; and Falstaff in Montreal. And no, I have no reason to complain. From Tel Aviv, I will continue to Paris to conduct Madama Butterfly. Then I will debut in Monte Carlo with Ernani; and in Venice, I will conduct Tosca.”

Caligari says that “while we musicians play the same music, the stage directors have to find new ways to attract audiences or, to put it simply, sell tickets. Inventing new things in opera is far from easy because everything has already been done, and sometimes directors go too far.”

So where is the line between a good production and one that has gone beyond the limits? “Respect for the word, for the story. If a character sings “Here is the spade” but points to a chair, that is unacceptable because it simply ruins the story. And the costumes are less important. Verdi was very hard on librettists, very demanding, because he heard both the meaning and the sound of the word. The correlation between the word and the music in his operas is simply amazing. It reaches its peak in Falstaff. I still don't know what the current production looks like because we have only started stage rehearsals, but I believe that everything will be in accordance with the music.”

Caligari is no less demanding about the musical aspect of productions.

“I see myself as a servant of music, and I can't agree with changes in the score that some of my colleagues make,” he says. “I consider the composer more intelligent than me, and I play what is written.”

If that is the case, where does his individuality as a conductor come in? “There are things that you cannot fix in the score, and that is where you can reveal your personality,” says Caligari. “We are all different, and we breathe music differently.”

Un ballo in maschera, performed by a mostly Israeli cast, will run at the Opera House in Tel Aviv from January 17 to February 1.

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Photography: Yossi Zwecker