Soloists of the Meitar Opera Studio of the Israeli Opera performed solos, duets and ensembles from Rossini operas at a concert that took place in the Church of the Ark of the Covenant, Kiryat Ye’arim at the 47th Abu Gosh Vocal Music Festival on May 23rd 2015. The Meitar Opera Studio is under the musical direction of David Sebba; at the concert, he provided piano accompaniments for the eight singers chosen to take part in this year’s Meitar Studio program. A stepping stone for young opera singers who have completed music academy degrees, the program offers extra music- and drama training and much practical experience to the singers in preparation of an opera career.
Occupying an unrivalled position in the Italian musical world of his time and enjoying success early in his career, Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868) saw his operas first performed in Italy, then leading to success in Paris opera houses, with his 39th and final opera “William Tell”, staged in Paris in 1829. In his remaining 40 years, Rossini wrote no more operas (still writing some small piano pieces he referred to as “Sins of Old Age” and a few choral works); whether the cessation of opera output was due to grief over his mother’s death, depression or his love of cooking and lavish style of entertaining is unclear.
Sebba and the Meitar Studio singers presented a colorful selection of Rossini’s operas and some other examples of the composer’s choral music. They performed several numbers from one of the greatest masterpieces of opera buffa “The Barber of Seville”, opening with tenor Eitan Drori’s songful and expressive rendition of an aria sung by Lindoro (the disguised Count Almaviva) “Should you want to know my name”, then to mezzo-soprano Shahar Lavi’s “A voice a while back”, in which she uses the stage, her powerful creamy voice and agility to portray the coquettish Rosina. Picking up the humor of the situation, vivacious Tal Bergman as Berta brought the nuances of the text to life, using the resources of her large voice to tell of the “old man looking for a wife”. From Scene 2 of Act 1, we heard baritone Yair Polishook, a familiar face on the early music scene, in a witty and amusing performance as the scheming Figaro, expounding his cunning plan for Rosina (Shahar Lavi) to meet her lover. In a more serious vein, “Resta Immobile” (Stay motionless) from “William Tell”, the pivotal, sensitive moment William Tell sings to his son, Polishook brought out the piece’s strong emotions, these heightened by dynamic changes and the dramatic color of his lower register.
A graduate of the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance and the Mendelssohn Hochschule für Musik und Theater (Leipzig), mezzo-soprano Nitzan Yogev-Alon possesses musical and artistic know-how and some wonderful ebony timbres in the alto register, contending well with Rossini’s typically challenging mezzo-soprano demands, as she expressed both sorrow and courage in the cavatina “Cruda sorte” (Cruel destiny) sung by Isabella in “The Italian Girl in Algiers”.
As the famous Roman poetess Corinna in “Il viaggio a Reims” (The Journey to Rheims), Rossini’s last Italian opera, soprano Tali Ketzef’s musicality, agility, fine vocal control and ease made her delivery of the challenging “Al ombra amena” (In a pleasant shadow) rewarding in its textual shaping, its melting runs and embellishments.
Duets included “La Serenata”, from the composer’s collection of “Soirées Musicales”, small musical gems bristling with charm and gentle wit, from the repertoire performed in salon evenings held at Rossini’s Paris home. Eitan Drori and soprano Goni Knaani engaged in some fine teamwork to evoke the piece’s graceful and lyrical mood. Performing “Quis est homo” from the Rossini “Stabat Mater”, Tali Ketzef and Nitzan Yogev-Alon collaborated and blended sympathetically, addressing the musical text’s strange, chromatic twists.
As to Rossini’s dramma giocoso “La Cenerentola” (Cinderella, or Goodness Triumphant), a work the composer wrote in three weeks when only 25, we heard three numbers from the brilliantly quirky piece sung to David Sebba’s translation into Hebrew. From the moment Yair Polishook (the philosopher Alidoro) entered from the back of the church, disheveled and dragging his feet, all the plugs were pulled out for a good dose of hilarity. The stepsisters – Goni Knaani and Tal Bergman – fought out their jealousy to the amusement of the audience, baritone Anton Alexeev sang and played the role of Dandini, the prince’s valet, and Shahar Lavi was an impressive operatic Cinderella. An altered version of the Cinderella story we were read as children, Rossini’s sparkling and energy-packed score demands vocal agility and sets many demands for the young opera singer. Other ensemble pieces performed with pizzazz and richness were a quartet from “I Gondolieri” (Ketzef, Yogev-Alon, Drori, Polishook) and the finale from Act 1 of “The Barber of Seville”.
Singer, conductor, composer of theatre music and arranger, Maestro David Sebba has translated more than ten operas into Hebrew; he also performs his own show “Mad about Opera”, a parody on the history of voice and opera, accompanied by pianist Irit Rub. David Sebba’s direction of this concert, his work with the students and his outstanding piano accompaniments were infused with vitality, inspiring his select group of singers to give of their all. Rossini was known to have said: “Eating, loving, singing and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life, and they pass like bubbles of a bottle of champagne. Whoever lets them break without having enjoyed them is a complete fool.” The audience certainly enjoyed a good taste of Rossini’s music and personality at this festival concert.