Cirque du Soleil does not come to Israel, but amazingly, you can get a taste of that kind of mesmerizing entertainment by catching English Baroque composer Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, being performed by the Israel Opera in Tel Aviv now through June 11.
There is no hint of the treat that is in store as the tragic opera begins with the slow, melancholy strains of the overture, performed by Barrocade, an Israeli baroque collective whose members play on original baroque instruments, such as the violone and the viola da gamba. The guest ensemble is being conducted by Ethan Schmeisser, the chorus master of the Israel Opera Chorus, which shares the pit with the musicians.
Nor does the mood lighten at the start of Act I, as a dejected Dido listens to her sister Belinda’s attempts to cheer her up. The bawdy Sailor’s song suddenly injects some levity into the scene, helped along by the fact that the libretto is in English; the original language is nonetheless still screened in the surtitles, a welcome change from the oft-times stilted translations that are the usual opera fare.
Act II represents a complete change of pace, as the Sorcerer, in the eye-catching form of an octopus of indeterminate gender, hatches his sinister plan, while his cavorting creepy minions perform acrobatics of agile elasticity. More acrobatics ensue as the Sorcerer’s messenger Mercury performs a trapeze act—and continue into the third act, when the sailors of Aeneas’ fleet execute gravity-defying stunts on the ships’ rigging.
Finally, even Dido’s masterfully staged death scene is a fitting finale to a performance that is unique and unforgettable.
The jaw-dropping sequences of this production are the work visiting directors, designers and choreographers Cecile Roussat and Julien Lubek—award-winning European artistes who studied under legendary mime Marcel Marceau. The Israel Opera version of the production—which had originally been created for the Opera de Rouen Normandie—featured local acrobats and dancers.
Similarly, the entire cast is 100% Israeli—the first time all season that all the singing roles are being performed by native artists, in this age of global talent. Particularly worthy of mention is tenor Guy Mannheim, in the demanding dual role of the Sorcerer and the Sailor; not only is he appearing in both roles in all nine performances of the present run, he must do so for the most part in cumbersome makeup and costuming.
Other performers in lead roles familiar to Israeli audiences are soprano Anat Czarny as Dido, soprano Daniela Skorka in the role of Belinda, and baritone Oded Reich in the role of Aeneas. Tal Bergman, Tal Ganor and Yair Polishook step into these roles as alternates for three performances each.
The next opera—the last of the 2017-18 season—is Bizet’s Carmen, scheduled for July.