“How would you like to go to the opera on Wednesday,” asked RealJ (my nickname for RealJStreets)?
“Nah. Too much going on,” I said.
“Well, what if I can get you free tickets?”
“Free? You said the magic word.”
And that was how I got to see my first opera in, of all places, Sultan’s Pool, in the Old City of Jerusalem. I brought my friend Avital Macales. The two of us are singing and performing buddies, having been onstage together in a couple of Raise Your Spirits productions, including one where she played my wife (such is the nature of all-women’s community theater), and we also sing together in a neighborhood choir, Kolot Etzion. Avital was a good choice. It would be her first opera, too. Besides, she has a car.
So when we got there, we found we were sitting way up there in nosebleed heaven, but that actually had its advantages. As it turns out, the “lucky” bloggers sitting in the VIP section (they got white blankets to keep out the chill!) were sitting below stage level, close to the orchestra pit. Some of those bloggers actually moved up to sit near us during intermission, because they couldn’t see anything. We could see the whole stage and there were video screens on either side of the stage and above it, so we didn’t have to strain. The English surtitles were perfectly legible from where we sat, as well.
And of course, we had a gorgeous and panoramic Jerusalem skyline to watch as the sun set and on into the night. We were so high up we were just about eyelevel with the tips of the swaying Jerusalem pines. Bats flew by us a few times, which was a bit disconcerting (I was sure they were birds, but RealJ thought bats and my DH confirmed that birds don’t fly at night, they HAD to be bats).
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat opened the show because this is, in a sense, his baby. He is working hard to bring culture to Jerusalem. As a religious person, I’m of two minds about this stuff. On the one hand, this is a holy city. Do we really need to see heaving bosoms or have women singing about lust in walking distance from the Temple Mount?
On the other hand, how cool is it that we can see a music production of such high caliber in Jerusalem? Our ancestors never could have dreamed it would be possible. As for heaving bosoms and etc., well, that’s why I took Avital, instead of my husband. It was a nice girls’ night out for us.
Now, mind you: I wasn’t really sure I was going to like opera. And Avital felt the same way. As we walked to our seats I told her that if it seems to go on forever, to say the word and we’ll get up and go–leave for home. Happily, both of us were absolutely riveted to what was happening onstage. We kind of had to restrain ourselves from clapping at every pause (apparently a no-no at the opera)!
The singers were incredible and had so much stamina, finishing as strongly as they started. The backdrops were many, beautiful and creative. We’d see a starry sky, or a hot sun shimmering over the Mediterranean Sea, or we’d see black and white photos of Italian peasant women doing laundry by hand, the old-fashioned way.
The props included some cool anachronisms, for instance, Dulcamara (Vladimir Brown), the itinerant medicine man, entered and exited the stage in a pink convertible(!), while Nemorino (Alexei Dolgov), the male lead wore denim, something that would not be invented until forty years after the original premiere of L’elisir d’amore. Still, the simple costumes, especially those of the peasant women in the chorus, were certainly evocative of a certain long ago time in Italy.
So the story of L’elisir d’amore is the typical boy meets girl, falls in love, loses girl, gets her back sort of story. The girl is Adina (Alla Vasilevitsky) and she gets lots of opportunities to show off all the various musical shenanigans she can do with her voice because this Donizetti opera is in the Bel Canto style, filled with runs and trills. L’elisir d’amore is a musical comedy and it really did have me chuckling, especially during Dulcamara’s rapidly sung staccato recitation of all the ills he could cure:
Ei move i paralitici,
spedisce gli apopletici,
gli asmatici, gli asfitici,
gl’isterici, i diabetici,
e scrofole e rachitidi,
e fino il mal di fegato,
che in moda diventò.
(It moves the paralytics,
It cures tympanitis,
And tuberculosis and rickets,
And even liver trouble,
Which used to be fashionable.)
While my favorite arias belonged to Dulcamara, Nemorino stole our hearts. Though we had scanned the libretto prior to the event (thoughtfully translated for me by my friend Robert Werdine) and knew that Nemorino would win over his sweetheart Adina, Avital and I experienced some worry over whether it actually would happen.
SPOILER ALERT: It did.
When it was all over, Avital commented on how the singers managed to sing all the way through with hardly any break. She said, “My voice would have gotten tired,” and that is saying something. Avital only recently played Avraham in Count the Stars, a show she co-wrote with Sharon Katz about the journey of Abraham and Sara. That was a LOT of singing.
All in all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I would definitely love to do it again!