Israeli Opera: Hanoch Levin – The Opera

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Photos from rehearsals Hanoch Levin – The Opera/Photo: Yossi Zwecker

Hanoch Levin – The Opera, a new, original opera in Hebrew, conducted by David Sebba, and directed by Shirit Lee Weiss, was originally scheduled to open the 23 – 24 season at the Israeli Opera. Due to the war, the opera was postponed, and the new performance dates are: January 29 – February 5, 2024.

Bold, incisive, poetic, and scathingly witty, Hanoch Levin’s works encompass comic and tragic plays, satiric cabarets, short stories, and songs, and his legacy lives on as a writer of almost mythic stature in Israeli culture. Considering the range of Levin’s work, it is fitting that the opera was created by five different composers, Yossi Ben Nun, Yonatan Cnaan, Yonatan Keret, Roni Reshef and David Sebba, each creating a different, unique, musical world for Levin’s words. Ido Ricklin, the dramaturg of the Israeli Opera, selected scenes and songs that represent different periods in Levin’s writing, including excerpts from the plays Rubber Merchants, Yaacobi and Leidental, Popper, Bachelors and Bachelorettes, Murder, Schitz, and The Gigolo of the Congo. Several of Levin’s best-known songs were selected as part of the program and will be performed in operatic arrangements. Several of the “children’s songs” were composed by Yossi Ben Nun, who is the only one of the cohort of composers who worked with the late dramatist, composing the music to several of the plays which were directed by Levin.

Photos from rehearsals Hanoch Levin – The Opera/Photo: Yossi Zwecker

The production, under the baton and musical direction of David Sebba and directed by Shirit Lee Weiss, connects Levin’s extreme characters to the world of opera. The talented creative team includes Set Designer Adam Keller, Costume Designer Ula Shevstov, and Lighting Designer Nadav Barnea. Each of the different sketches and songs is given its own sense of color, style, and tone, as well as era. The production situates the familiar Levin characters in historic moments known to all, contributing new layers of meaning through the mise en scene. Director Shirit Lee Weiss stated that “the encounter between Levin’s texts, the operatic music, and the sometimes unusual locations where the scenes take place reveal the most human, funny, sour, painful, and compassionate moments,” adding that the complexity created by working with several different texts and composers is “liberating. There is a great deal of freedom, with many possibilities, the music gives the text a different sense of time, new emphasis, it magnifies and enables Levin’s pointed drama, gives us more hues and more time with each character.”

Composer and Conductor David Sebba said of the production, “Levin’s texts have many rare qualities of an operatic libretto, they don’t go round in circles. They are replete with punchlines that are never apologetic or softened, the touch the height of the ideal just as they touch the depths of disgust, with his distilled, painful, beautiful, repellent, embarrassing words, and they return to the human in all its beauty and ugliness. Texts like these invite any composer, they tempt and activate him. The sense is that the rules of the Levin game are: there are no rules! You can touch anything, life and death, sail from the depth of misery to release or catastrophe.”

Photos from rehearsals Hanoch Levin – The Opera/Photo: Yossi Zwecker

Some of my favorite soloist from the Israeli Opera will be performing in Hanoch Levin – The Opera, including Baritone Oded Reich (who portrayed Theodor in the eponymous, wonderful, opera), Soprano Yael Levita (who includes God among her many roles – in Mothers, the opera composed by David Sebba), Mezzo Soprano Anat Czarny (Julie in Theodor, and I will always treasure her fierce Bradamante in Alcina), Soprano Daniela Skorka (most recently Ginevra in Ariodante), Baritone Yair Polishook (most recently Hermann Bahr in Theodor). I’m also looking forward to hearing performers less familiar to me – Soprano Tom Cohen, Soprano Sivan Keren, Mezzo Soprano Tamara Navoth, Tenor Adi Ezra, and Bass Yoav Ayalon.

Hanoch Levin – The Opera will be performed from January 29 – February 5, 2024, at the Israeli Opera. A 30-minute introductory lecture takes place an hour before each show, admission is free for ticket holders. Tickets are available on the Israeli Opera website, or call: 03-692777.

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