The Marriage of Figaro: opera as farce
The Israeli Opera recently concluded the first two of its four Italian opera productions scheduled for the current season, with this year’s only opera bouffe: The Marriage of Figaro, the hugely popular work by the incomparable Wolfgang AmadeusMozart. It was Mozart’s second opera to be performed in Tel Aviv this season, following last November’s production of The Magic Flute.
The production marked the return to Israel of acclaimed English opera director David Pountney, though his staging of the set and costume design – the former with his repeated use of steep scales, sometimes leading nowhere hand, and the latter’s somewhat more contemporary take on traditional period costumes – was therefore not without controversy. Briton Leslie Travers designed the set, in his first work for the Israel Opera, while Russian-Israeli set designer Ula Shevtov, a veteran of Tel Aviv theater and opera productions, was in charge of the costumes.
Where the direction shone, however, was in the comedic acting of two of the Israeli performers who weren’t necessarily in the lead roles. Israeli tenor Eitan Drori, fresh from his role as Beppe in Pagliacci, was absolutely hilarious as the effeminate Don Basilio, even if his singing parts were minimal.
The other artist whose antics brought laughs was Israeli bass Pnini Leon Grubner, as Antonio, the drunken gardener who always carried a potted cactus. Grubner had been absent from the Tel Aviv scene in recent years, honing his considerable skills while studying and performing in London and New York; it is to be hoped that his return to our shores will allow us to hear his rich bass voice more regularly with the Israeli Opera.
Of course, the big roles also followed one another without a hitch, starting with the American bass-baritone Cody Quattlebaum in the main role of Figaro – in his Israeli debut – alternating with the British baritone Ross Ramgobin, in only his second appearance with the Israeli Opera. . Figaro’s lover and fiancée, Susanna, was sung beautifully by Israeli soprano Shira Patchornik, alternating in the role with fellow Israeli soprano Daniela Skorka.
Israeli baritone Oded Reich, a favorite of Israeli opera (who also enjoyed performing occasionally) was perfect in the key role of Count Almaviva, as was Russian-Israeli soprano Alla Vassilevitsky as his desperate wife, Countess Almaviva. Reich alternated in the role with American baritone Theo Hoffman, another sporadic visitor to Tel Aviv, while familiar Israeli soprano Tal Bergman alternated with her colleague as countess.
Also of note is the panty role of Cherubino, the Count’s page who is quite a ladies’ man, despite being played by women – in this production by Israeli mezzo sopranos Anat Czarny and Tal Ganor, two mainstays of Israeli opera.
Conductor throughout the run was Italian maestro Michele Gamba, who also played harpsichord with the Opera Orchestra (Israel Rishon Lezion Symphony Orchestra) when not wielding the wand on the podium. Gamba flew in as soon as he recovered from Covid, an unfortunately timed illness that delayed the premiere of this production, adding to the scheduling confusion of a season already out of whack earlier this year by Omicron.
The Israeli Opera Chorus, under the direction of choir director Assaf Benraf, performed the few choral pieces, in an opera fortunately best known for its variety of multi-voice arias, ranging from duets and trios to quartet, quintet and even occasional sextets.
Barring viral complications, the next Israeli opera production is Alcina, by George Friedrich Handel. This brand new production, of a less performed opera from the High Baroque period, is scheduled for a very short duration: only five performances, spread over the weeks of May 16 to 30.
The Israeli Opera. 19 Shaul Hamelekh Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Such. (03) 692-7777.