“They say Dylan Thomas used to tell his actors: love the words, Hanoch Levin doesn’t have to tell us, we love the words,” said Omri Nitzan, at a press conference introducing the Israeli Opera’s production of “The Child Dreams” based on the play by Hanoch Levin, directed by Nitzan with music composed by Gil Shohat and conducted by the Opera’s Artistic Director, David Stern. The first of Levin’s plays to be produced as an opera, those familiar with the minimalist, cynical ambiance of Levin’s works may wonder at this translation into a mode known for its lush extravagance of sound, visual expression and drama, it is also important to remember the close connection to music and song throughout Levin’s work. As Nitzan puts it, “The play is written as if it were meant to be sung.”
The world premiere of “The Child Dreams” will take place on January 18, 2010, celebrating the Israeli Opera’s 25th season. The Opera’s General Director, Hannah Munitz expressed her affinity for Levin’s writing saying, “We come from the same background, a generation born to people whose lives were cut disrupted, for whom survival became the greatest achievement, their most important work – us, the next generation. Our task was to create a new world.”
Born in 1943, this year marks the 10th anniversary of Hanoch Levin’s death. Playwright, director and poet, he wrote plays, sketches, songs, short stories and poetry. His was a very personal dramatic language in which his poetic writing merged with the images he created through the actors, costume, lighting and set design, music and choreography for his works. Levin wrote 62 plays, cabarets and reviews, of which 41 have been produced.
“The Child Dreams,” premiered in 1993 as a co-production of Habima National Theatre, Haifa Theatre and the Israel Festival, directed by Levin. In the current adaptation to an opera, Nitzan and Shohat did not add a word to the libretto (which has been approved by Prof. Nurit Yaari) that is not in Levin’s original text. The play describes an allegorical journey of refugees who are rejected from every shore, travelling in search of sanctuary. Levin was inspired by Stuart Rosenberg’s 1976 film “Voyage of the Damned.” The film is based on the true story of the MS St. Louis, which carried Jews from Hamburg to Cuba in 1939. Refused entry to Cuba and the United States, the ship had no alternative but to return with its passengers to Europe.
Says director Nitzan, “The entire play is a metaphor for our time: the events of the past century, and the journey of life itself. Levin’s writing is very clear, original, devoid of illusions, sometimes cruel. Shohat is a contemporary composer who is not afraid of being melodic. Gil’s music introduces emotional elements into Levin’s clear vision.”
Composer Shohat said of the play, “It is a story of refugees, love hate murder, brutal sexuality – there are so many levels of meaning, and the music adds another multi-layer element. It is an ensemble opera. There is a Greek chorus of 9 voices, each different, creating a panorama of sound. I spent many hours alone at the piano writing the music, then turning four hours of music into a two hour opera. I write with a pen, I don’t have a computer or keyboard, just a grand piano and a pen. This is the most exciting moment for a composer – seeing the musicians encounter the work and become partners in the realization of your dreams. I approached this work with humility with the image of Hanoch Levin before me. I met with him not long before his death and he gave his blessing to this undertaking. I feel privileged to present a play by Hanoch Levin at the Israeli Opera.”
The intended set and costume design promises to be visually exciting, created by Austrian artist Gottfried Hellenwein who explores social and political issues in his artwork through the image of wounded children. In a videotaped statement, Hellenwein said, “The role of the artist is not to allow people to forget.” He recounted that in speaking to people about the Holocaust he found that “violence against children was not a problem for them, but an innocent image; a tiny watercolor would upset them. I see myself in the tradition of Goya painting “The Disasters of War” – he knew people would forget.” When Hellenwein was approached by the Israeli Opera to create the design for “The Child Dreams” he felt that it was “unbelievable how much Hanoch Levin described what I wanted to paint.”
Martin Weyl, Director of the Beracha Foundation which provided support for this production, introduced a different perspective, saying, “I apologize for disrupting the poetic mood to talk about financial support. There is a question whether providing financial support to an artistic endeavor is helpful or not. I regard that as an open question for which I still have not found an answer. We wanted to see if we could encourage an original Israeli production by providing massive support.” The foundation previously supported the Beit Lessin production of “Zur and Jerusalem.” After the success of that project, the foundation sought help from Culture Authority Head Tzah Granit in finding an appropriate work to support, and Granit created the connection with Hannah Munitz.
Nitzan shared an intimate moment with the audience, reading aloud from a fax he had received years ago from Levin, when both were about to begin rehearsing new plays: “before beginning rehearsals a new and terrible fear creeps in …you are my partner in this and the time to tremble has arrived. May we have a pleasant tremor.”
The Child Dreams
Israel Opera – Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (TAPAC)
19 Shaul HaMelech Blvd.
Saturday, January 16 at 11:00
A selection of songs from “The Child Dreams” and discussion with some of the soloists and creators of the opera, presented by Michael Eisenstadt
Before the Show – back stage tours an hour before the performance
January 20, 23 and 25 at 19:00
Post-performance discussions with selected participants in the opera
January 20, 22, 23 and 25
There will be an introductory lecture one hour preceding each performance.
January 18, 20, 23 and 25 at 20:00
January 22 at 13:00
Information: 03-6927777, www.israel-opera.co.il
Top Image Credit: from “The Child Dreams”/Photo: Ze’ev Levi