|Photo courtesy the Israel Chamber Orchestra|
Taking place in the Recanati Auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art on March 23rd 2017, the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s recent all-Mozart concert offered a broad range of repertoire, covering orchestral music, opera and theatre. Conducting the somewhat non-mainstream event was Stanley Sperber. The program opened with W.A.Mozart’s Symphony No.38 in D-major K.504, “Prague”, so-called because it was premiered in that city in 1787, where the composer was enjoying great popularity. It is clear that this symphony was not originally written to be played in Prague: it was heard in what ensued as a number of triumphant concerts for him there, resulting in the commission for “Don Giovanni”. From the separate, ceremonious utterances of the brooding opening Adagio, Maestro Sperber (choosing to conduct without a baton) brought into play the various elements indicative of Mozart’s mature symphonic craft – exuberance, energy, melodiousness, the composer’s economy of ideas, purity of expression, his skilful use of dissonance and his subtlety of layering – in performance incisive, eloquent and flavoured with a sense-of-wellbeing. Some fine woodwind playing characterises the ICO’s splendid orchestral sound.
Following intermission, the stage took on a different guise: the right side was now occupied by a grand armchair, a door frame and a glistening motorcycle in preparation for Rosemarie Danziger’s adaptation and stage direction of Mozart’s Singspiel “Der Schauspieldirektor” (The Impresario) composed to a libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie jnr. Since 2013, Danziger has been directing the Vienna-Tel Aviv Vocal Connection (founded by Sylvia Greenberg and conductor/vocal coach David Aronson). All the singers of this ICO production have been participants in seminars of the Vienna-Tel Aviv Vocal Connection.
The comic chamber opera, a farcical look behind the scenes of an opera company, satirizes the rivalries and divas of show business. As the ICO sets the scene with its effervescent playing of the overture to “Impresario” (the only part of the opera really familiar to most concert-goers) the music offers a sneak preview of the naïve melodiousness of the ensuing arias and of Mozart’s characteristic tongue-in-cheek wit, but also of his generous orchestral scoring. And as we hear the overture, La Roche (the opera director, portrayed by actor and pantomimic Fyodor Makarov) is seeing to his appearance – powdering his face, plastering down his hair, donning his jacket and bow-tie. And in readiness for the proceedings, the stage needs vacuum-cleaning. The vacuum cleaner pipe will then serve La Roche (in a non-singing role) as a kind-of hoarse, massive wind instrument joining the orchestra at certain moments throughout the production; a comical touch, for, after all, Makarov is a very fine clown. As to the other characters on stage, all (except for Ayelet Amots-Avramson) are dubious characters. Mezzo-soprano Zlata Hershberg, for example, (as Clairon) plays the part of a black leather-clad, whip-wielding sadist with oomph, her ample, well-grounded voice, joy and natural stage presence making for fine, jocose entertainment. Soprano Avigail Gurtler-Har-Tuv plays the scantily-clothed Madame Herz; here, the young opera singer’s creamy soprano timbre and already secure coloratura merge comfortably with her waggish penchant for comedy as she sails effortlessly through registers of her voice in delightful solo- and ensemble singing. Her rival, Madame Silberklang, is played by soprano Christina Maria Fercher (Austria); in her performance, as colourful as her outfit (Fercher made the transition from musical comedy to opera) her powerful voice making its statement, as does her skilful dancing of the Charleston, with the ICO digressing momentarily from Mozart to accompany it with a reminder of the ebullient music of the Roaring 20s. As Buff, La Roche’s handsome assistant, Brazilian-born baritone Robson Bueno Tavares displayed fine vocal ability, spending much of his time on stage flirting with the young ladies. Endowed with a powerful, rich and warm voice, young Austrian-born tenor Franz Gürtelschmied, a singer fast making his mark on the European opera-, Lied- and church music scene, played Vogelsang, an opera agent working for La Roche, luring lady singers to their company by means of his beloved motorcycle. And he is owed money!
A whimsical touch is that Makarov and each of the singers is speaking his/her own language: we hear Hebrew, German, Russian, English and Portuguese spoken; it is somewhat possible to grasp the gist of what is being said. And then, a certain Madame Krone, the exquisitely-dressed Ayelet Amots-Avramson, appears on the scene looking totally out-of-place among this motley collection of characters. She observes what is happening, is impartial to the changes being discussed and is about to leave. The pompous La Roche, aware that all those around are rebelling, holds a grandiloquent speech in order to bring about order and harmony…to make new laws. The speech, based on La Roche’s speech from Richard Strauss’ opera “Capriccio”, might well be inferring to the state of the local Israeli culture scene.
Stephanie (himself an impresario) was given the idea for the opera by Emperor Joseph II. Not an original plot, the subject appealed to Mozart, who would have been familiar with the difficulties encountered by an impresario endeavouring to assemble a theatrical company in Salzburg. Mozart’s original score comprises only five numbers – each masterful and funny - and the opera has passed through many hands, undergoing much adaptation. Danziger has made several changes, among them, the addition of four arias from other Mozart operas, these working in well with the characters and plot. Maestro Sperber, entering into the convivial spirit of the production, drew all musical threads together in music-making that was high-spirited, energetic and appealing. In this production, the Israel Chamber Orchestra really let its hair down! I think Mozart would have liked it a lot.