“The Comedy of Love” or “Love as Comedy”, the Aeterna Jerusalem Theater of Chamber Opera’s newest production, took place in the recently opened Mikro Theatre of the Jerusalem Center of Performing Arts on May 24th 2016. Under the musical direction of Ilya Plotkin, the a-capella Musica Aeterna Choir was founded 20 years ago. Then, thirteen years ago, Maestro Plotkin established Opera Aeterna, its first production being “The Impresario” by W.A.Mozart. The idea for the 2016 production, a combination of three of Italian Baroque music’s most popular comic intermezzo operas – Pergolesi and Paisiello’s settings of “La serva padrona” and Telemann’s “Pimpinone” - was thought up by Maestro Plotkin. Eleanore Plot in was project director. The idea was realized in the hands of stage director Julia Plakhin. Costumes and sets were designed by Irina Tkachenko, with makeup by Helena Plotkin. Maestro Plotkin directed a competent chamber orchestra of strings players and continuo. Opera Aeterna, whose members (and much of the audience at this performance) are largely Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel, is supported by the “Keshet Omanuyot” Association, the Ministry of Absorption, the Center for Absorption of Immigrant Artists and Returning Residents and by the Gabriel Sherover Foundation.
How does one combine three operas on one stage? For a start, each presents the theme of the maid-mistress setting her sights at an older, gullible man and the consequences thereof, as inspired by Jacopo Angelo Nelli’s 1714 play “La serva padrona” (The Servant Turned Mistress). Opera Aeterna’s comic twist was to have all characters of both operas on stage. From “La serva padrona” there was not one but two Serpinas – Serpina I – soprano Shirelle Dashevsky, soprano II – soprano Julia Plakhin, with bass Andrei Trifonov as Uberto. From “Pimpinone”, Irina Mindlin played Vespetta, with baritone Dmitry Lovtsov in the role of Pimpinone. Opera Aeterna makes no practice of using surtitles in its productions, so, in addition to the traditional Italian characters of both operas, actor Yitzhak Peker assumed the (non-singing) role of narrator: he was the landlord of the house in which all these questionable, go-getter characters were living. In addition to explaining, commenting and constantly communicating with Maestro Plotkin, the landlord himself was also looking for love, thus also being involved in the romantic attractions and rejections all taking place in his house. And there was another new character on the scene - Stam-Coli (tenor Dmitry Semyonov) – the figure of the narcissistic pop singer. Where did he belong in the plot? Actually, nowhere for most of the performance, being so obsessed with himself, his looks, his image, his outfits and his microphone! If early 18th century composers had intended the “serva padrona” characters to represent real-life personalities, replacing commedia dell’arte characters, creating the figure of Stam-Coli was a brilliant touch.
At the left side of the stage we see Uberto’s studio with easel, palette and a few discarded empty bottles. Plants, a bench and an antique chair give the impression of a dwelling. Three large windows at the back of the stage allow the audience to see into other rooms of the house. The chamber orchestra and conductor occupy the right wing of the stage. The landlord enters, an abacus in hand to calculate rent owing to him, as Uberto threatens him. We were soon to realize that the evening’s musical bill consisted of some of the finest solos and duets from all three operas. The stage quickly became alive with action, with womanly wiles taking control and relationships complicating. Both Serpinas pine to rekindle their love with Uberto. Shirelle Dashevsky is coquettish, teasing and ebullient; she is so well suited to the opera buffa style and her well-oiled voice sails naturally through each phrase.
The other Serpina – Julia Plakhin – is vivacious and flirtatious, her vocal agility, musicality and feminine esprit serving her splendidly. But Uberto is not impressed and wants nothing of either of the competing female admirers; in this role, Andrei Trifinov’s richly resounding voice was as pleasing as his face was disgruntled! Dmitry Lovtsov, dressed in pyjamas and an elaborate gold brocade dressing gown, was excellently cast as the foolish, elderly and lecherous Pimpinone. Irina Mindlin was a daring and promiscuous Vespetta, scheming, snide and quite the vixenish woman. She and Lovtsov pulled out all the plugs as they entertained the audience with their risqué humour, fine voices and superb musical presentation of Telemann’s masterful duets. And how droll it was to hear the shaky, dejected and finally disillusioned Pimpinone suddenly singing in Yiddish! As to the farcical Stam-Col, Dmitry Semyonov, his tenor voice smooth and easeful, had the audience chuckling at his eccentricity as he seemed to float on and off stage, his face fixed in a rapt expression, and sporting some over-the-top costumes. At one moment, he unexpectedly appeared in a Mexican outfit, complete with sombrero, singing the popular Mexican song “Cielito Lindo”. As narrator and the landlord, Yitshak Peker, although somewhat exotically clad, cut a pathetic, needy figure but, with all the “re-pairing” happening by the end of the performance, he finally managed to win his true love – Serpina I – Shirelle Dashevsky. Uberto had won the affections of the hard-to-get Vespetta. Stam-Coli and Serpina II – Julia Plakhin found love in each other – an unlikely match…but, after all, this is opera! Only Pimpinone, looking pathetic hunched sadly behind the window, was to remain alone. In a last spurt of energy, he sprang out, gun in hand, to seek revenge and get Vespetta’s money. There ended the performance, its main themes of money, the duplicity of women and the narcissistic singer interwoven in an evening of fine and truly comical operatic fare.
Photos: Daniel Zaman