Flutes, Flowers and the Sex Life of Snails

It’s been a busy few weeks, no doubt about that. The second half of December was taken up with rehearsals for The Jerusalem Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in which my choir, the Jerusalem Oratorio Chamber Choir, took part, together with a cast of extremely talented soloists from Israel and abroad, including several young singers at the start of what are certain to be highly successful professional careers.

The choir’s part in this opera is not large – especially that of the women. However, a few intensive rehearsals were required, to cope with not only the musical demands of Mozart’s score, but also the staging requirements.

Dear Readers – I think I have been bitten by the Stage Bug. Costumes, makeup, lighting, sound effects – I had forgotten how much fun all this could be. I don’t think I have taken part in a fully-staged production of anything since high school.

Stay! There was a Jerusalem Academy of Music production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld in which our choir participated in its early years.

But I digress.
I would never have imagined how many things can go wrong. Not for nothing is there a Stage Director, Assistant Stage Director, Producer, Assistant Producer, Chorus Master, Assistant Chorus Master, a Stage Manager – and that is merely a partial list!

Backstage seemed like bedlam 😉 .  With so many things that can go amiss, it’s no wonder that the backstage staff carry walky-talkies or mobile phones at all times.
One wonders how they coped in Mozart’s time!

And things did go wrong. On the opening night, there were a few ghastly seconds in the Act 1 Finale when the choir and the orchestra were out of synch with each other, and half the choir was not in synch with the conductor (Omer Arieli), because those of them who were at the back of the stage could not even see the conductor, nor could they see the video monitors which are supposed to overcome this problem, the latter being placed too far to the Front Right and Front Left of the stage for those at the centre of the stage to see them. There was also a problem of sound delay with the audio monitors.
These glitches were corrected in time for the next performance, but again one wonders how on earth Mozart’s generation managed, without monitors, mobile phones or walky-talkies!!!

To be perfectly honest, The Magic Flute has never been high on my list of favourite operas. Nevertheless, from now on, it will always hold a warm place in my heart. As my faithful readers know, I am not a fan of “updating” opera. Dressing the characters of Il Trovatore in overalls and setting it in a shipyard, for example, is more than likely to leave me cold. The Magic Flute, however, is pure pantomime. As  with a fairytale, the director (in this case, Monica Waitzfelder) is free to do almost anything he or she likes. Likewise the costume designer. So I rather liked the quirky costumes designed by Shira Weiss for this production.

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We gave two performances in Jerusalem, and a final performance in Ashdod, from which we returned to the Capital in the small hours of the morning – and I went to bed at about 2 am.
Just to give you a taste, here are a couple of short videoclips.

In the first, we see Hungarian soprano Viktoria Varga as the Queen of the Night, (with local girl Na’ama Shulman as Pamina):





In the second, filmed by Chorus Master Oded Shomroni and shared here with his permission, we can see (most of) the opera finale, from the second Jerusalem performance. You can’t see me very well, however, as the rather tall Sarastro (Denis Sedov) is right in front of me and effectively hides me from the camera 😉  .


A week later, I had another field trip with Yad Ben Zvi – this time, to the Negev, to enjoy the wildflowers which were thriving after the week’s rain. The emphasis was supposed to be on the narcissi (Narcissus tazetta) which grow as far south as Dimona – but on the way, we stopped at a hill on the outskirts of Omer, near Beersheba, where, at first sight, there appears to be nothing noteworthy – just a bare  hill, but when you get closer, you can see it is carpeted with Colchicum ritchii – known in Hebrew as Sitvanit HaNegev (סתוונית הנגב) and in English as Egyptian Autumn Crocus or Egyptian meadow-saffron – and not to be confused with Steven’s meadow-saffron, which we saw in our December field trip.




We also saw eucalyptus trees, with their distinctive fruit and flowers.

P1030488 Eucalyptus fruit

Our next stop was Nachal Dimona, where the narcissi we had come to see were, we were reliably informed,  in full bloom.

We made our way along the streambed, stopping to admire other plant species, such as thymelaea, believed to be the plant from which Delilah made cords in her attempt to bind Samson (Judges 16: 10-12) and Arabian Globe-cress  ( Golanit arav  גולנית ערב)
On our way, we also stopped to talk about the snails, which were so thick on the ground, it was almost impossible not to step on them and crush them.


According to Edna, our guide, the snail’s slow speed could make for difficulties in their  love life 😉 Why? Well, suppose Mr. Snail, out in search of a mate, sees a fine looking potential partner from a distance, and slowly, painfully makes his way over the ten yards or so that lie between them, only to discover that what he had supposed to be Ms. Snail, is, in fact, another male. He would have come all that way for nothing! Fortunately, most snails are hermaphrodites, having both male and female organs. Hey presto! Problem solved!


At a point high above the stream bed, we were faced with the option of a terrifying descent down narrow paths overhanging a dizzying drop, or retracing our footsteps and approaching the location of the narcissus beds from the opposite direction. Despite the lateness of the hour, we opted for the latter. The following picture may give you some idea as to why:




The delay cost us the chance to visit Ein Yorke’am, a beautiful desert canyon, but since it was the narcissi we had come to see, it could not be helped. And I am sure you will agree they were worth it!

P1030497 Clumps of wild narcissi in Nachal Dimona



On our way back, as the sun started to set, we stopped off at the Ben Gurion Park in Dimona, with its gigantic, Gaudi-style environmental sculptures, by Ruslan Sergeev:



its forest, and its artificial lake:



Whoever would have dreamed, when Dimona was founded in the 1950s, that the out-of-the way development town, populated mostly by new immigrants, where nobody really wanted to live, would, one day, look like this?

But that’s Israel for you.  🙂












About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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12 Responses to Flutes, Flowers and the Sex Life of Snails

  1. ShimonZ says:

    A marvelous report on the production of art and music… and finally an explanation on why snails are less inclined to make war.

  2. Dimona, Shimona, is nothing to moan about! 🙂 Very good to read and watch.

  3. CATachresis says:

    Lovely to look at the beautiful flowers while listening to the stunning music!

  4. 15andmeowing says:

    That looks like an amazing production, thanks for sharing photos. My friend is in Jerusalem right now to sightsee while her daughter is almost done with her dance classes.

  5. Rick Bailey says:

    Magic Flute is one of my favorites, and I really enjoyed the clips you posted. It has been a while since I’ve heard that first aria (Queen of the Night?), and Zorastro’s scene.

    I’m not much for resetting the historic costumes and scenery either – so easy to come with a jarringly anachronistic combination of modern visuals next to historic soundscape. But, as long as the music isn’t ‘updated’ also, it can still be enjoyable.

    Thanks for sharing your life with us!

  6. Katherine says:

    One of my friends asked me to come to Israel for a holiday but although I’d like to see all the amazing flowers and trees not to mention the cities I feel it might be dangerous at the moment and hence hard to get insurance

    • What kind of insurance? All you need is regular travel insurance, and it is no problem to get that. I know people who visit here several times a year, with no problem at all. It is no more dangerous than the UK – probably less.

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