Okay, I did more or less hint that my next blog entry would be about the Obama visit, the so-called "Roadmap to Peace", the Arab-Israel Conflict, etc. but you know what? My blood pressure needs a break and if I start on that subject now, the readings will shoot off the scale! Besides which, I need to do some more research, so as to be sure of all my facts before I go sounding off. And finally – I have much pleasanter things to write about this week, so I’m going to chicken out (only temporarily) and tell you all, instead, about the exceedingly cultural week I have been having. Well, actually, it’s been a bit more than a week, because it started last Thursday (June 4th) with a trip to the opera. As some of you may know, I have a subscription to the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, that takes me to Israel’s second-largest city (which is this year celebrating its 100th anniversary) about once every six weeks during the Season. Last week, we greatly enjoyed Bizet’s Carmen – a New York Metropolitan production, staged by Franco Zeffirelli. This was, of course, by no means the first time we have seen Carmen. However, whereas the last time, we were "treated" to a ghastly, modern staging, which presented the eponymous heroine more or less as a common prostitute, and culminated in her murder by Micaela rather than by Don José (!!!), Zeffirelli gave us a lovely, traditional staging, with colourful costumes, realistic sets and (mercifully) an unchanged ending. The only disappointment was that, as often happens to the subscribers of the Thursday series, we didn’t get to see the "first string" cast – Neil Shicoff and our very own Rinat Shaham. However, Tea Demurashvilly filled the shoes of the fiery gypsy heroine admirably, with a rich, dramatic mezzo voice.
Taking pictures during the performance is, of course, not permitted but I snatched a shot at the end, during the prolonged curtain calls.
The following day, Friday, was the day of our first rehearsal with David Shemer’s Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, and Dr Myrna Herzog’s Phoenix Early Music Ensemble, for the two concerts planned for this week. I always enjoy first rehearsals with an orchestra, because that’s when everything starts to come together. The previous rehearsals had all been only with piano accompaniment. Of course, one also had to get used to David Shemer’s conducting – especially since we are used to a conductor who conducts from the podium. With the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra, however, as with many early music ensembles, David conducts from the keyboard – like Ton Koopman and Emmanuelle Haim.
As I remarked to my fellow soprano, Noga, this is how I like to spend my Friday mornings – rather than cleaning and cooking.
The programme was entitled "War and Peace – Music in the Wake of the Thirty Years War" and comprised two of the Symphoniae Sacrae by Heinrich Schütz (1585 – 1672), a couple of instrumental pieces by Johann Rosenmüller (1619 – 1684), Nisi Dominus by Franz Tunder (1614 – 1667) – of whom I had never heard before (one of the things I love about choir is that I’m always discovering something new) and a motet by Dietrich Buxtehude (1637 – 1707). Have I mentioned before – I adore Baroque music.
The following Sunday and Tuesday evenings were also given over to rehearsals and, since I like to come relaxed to our concerts and I have a great deal of accumulated leave, I took Wednesday and Thursday off work, so as to be able to immerse myself completely in the music (bliss).
Wednesday’s concert took place in the auditorium of Jerusalem’s International YMCA, a lovely, richly-decorated hall of eclectic style, with marvellous acoustics for the audience, but very dry acoustics for the performers on stage. In addition, the stage is relatively small, so, what with the choir and the instrumentalists, it was rather cramped. A lot of the pre-concert rehearsal time was wasted on trying to figure out where to place the choir and soloists so all could be heard to best advantage. The concert went well, although I felt, personally, that the choir’s first entrance was rather hesitant.
Thursday’s concert was in the auditorium of the Tel Aviv Museum of the Arts, right next door to the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre (home of the Israeli Opera, where we have also performed in the past). I always enjoy the drive from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, because the scenery is so spectacular and I can never resist the temptation to whip out my mobile phone and take a few pictures.
The museum auditorium was much larger than I expected although I have a feeling we have appeared there before (fellow choir-members assure me I am mistaken). At any rate, this time, there was plenty of room for choir, orchestra and soloists, so the pre-concert rehearsal could be devoted to ironing-out musical problems and correcting any shortcomings that had revealed themselves the previous evening. I even managed to take a few pictures as the orchestra was tuning up.
Here too, the concert went well, and we returned home, tired but happy (I was, anyway), and ready to start on our next project, another Baroque programme, this time with Myrna Herzog and the Phoenix Early Music Ensemble at the Abu Ghosh Vocal Music Festival in October. This time, it’s to be a programme of South American Baroque music. Our next rehearsal won’t be till Thursday. Haggi says we have worked hard on this project, so we can rest this Sunday, instead of having our usual rehearsal. On Thursday, we shall receive the music for the new project. I always feel a special kind of excitement when receiving new music. It’s like a new adventure in the offing – all those little black notes on the stave, struggling to get off the page, needing our voices to give them life and let them soar. It’s much akin to the feeling I get when I open a new book, bursting with new characters and stories, waiting to transport me to new worlds.
And while we’re on the subject of books, Wednesday saw the start of the annual Hebrew Book Week, which takes place every year in June, after Shavuot and which sees hundreds of thousands visiting a nationwide trade fair with a difference. Yes, despite the recession, despite the rival claims of television, despite the frequently-heard complaint that kids today prefer computer games to reading, "the People of the Book", both young and old, still flock to the open air stands and bookshops all over the country to celebrate the written word.
And that’s another reason why I’m proud to be Israeli.