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|La Scala and Barenboim Perform Verdi's Requiem before 100,000 attendees|
TEL AVIV On July 16, following a summer tradition of eight years, Tel Aviv municipality treated its constituency to an opera – an open mega event that took place on the lawn of Yarkon Park (Ganei Yehoshua, Tel-Aviv). Previous productions included La traviata, Nabucco, Rigoletto, and Samson and Delilah, all performed by the Israeli Opera. In 2009 – the year in which Tel-Aviv celebrates its first centenary – the stakes were raised, with the illustrious La Scala (Milan being a sister city of Tel-Aviv) singing Verdi's Requiem, no less.
Mayor Ron Huldai opened with an address nostalgically describing Tel-Aviv's birth, growth, and gradual emergence as Israel's most prominent city and economic center. Considerate of the singers, who, unlike him, would have to stand throughout the performance, he then went on to present the soloists: Adriana Damato, soprano, Giuseppe Filianoti, tenor, Rene Pape, bass, and Ekaterina Gubanova, mezzo-soprano. But it was the last name called out that produced the loudest applause: Daniel Barenboim, the conductor.
Daniel Barenboim is considered a somewhat controversial figure in Israel, mainly because of his occasional propensity, while touring the land where he spent a few years as a child, to conduct Wagner. For many Israelis, holocaust survivors among them, Wagner is an abomination: Jews in concentration camps were forced to play his music as their brothers were marched to the gas chambers; once seeing yet another Jew playing Wagner, even if it's in a much more hopeful context and setting, was too much, and eventually lead to a well covered scandal.
And though Verdi is not Wagner (by far), Barenboim's choice to conduct Requiem of all pieces still smacked of controversy. Why exactly I discovered as the first words of the Roman Catholic Mass escaped the lips of the singers: several families, the men wearing yarmulkes, the women long skirts, left the park territory in an organized fashion. For many observing folks, listening to a Christian prayer was also too much. After a few more moments, the crowd settled in, and the music washed over it with one giant, seemingly unstoppable, hour and a half long lasting wave.
Having not yet been to La Scala, Milan, I would like to suggest that the optimal position to be in while listening to Verdi's Requiem is lying down on one's back under an open sky. As I laid with my face up, the sounds of “Dies Irae,” accompanied by the sight of twinkling stars, suddenly menacing, appeared to cascade down from the heavens, as if to literally portend the judgement day.
My favorite soloist of the four was the tenor: Mr. Filianoti's voice sounded both the most powerful and the most focussed; his performance seemed proverbially effortless. Ms. Gubanova's singing appeared to lack control on the edges, and some of her phrasing revealed signs of fatigue. Overall, the performance was overwhelming in its almost physical force.
In a somewhat anticlimactic finale, the show concluded with fireworks and a giddy Tel-Avivian pop song. Mr. Huldai probably wished to dispel the grave atmosphere, fearing to see his citizens leave in a pensive mood. He has a re-election to think of.