Separating Ears From Eyes

Most of the wonderful moments in Bardanshvili's opera take place in the orchestra pit

In the New Israeli Opera's performance of "A Journey to the End of the Millennium," your ears are constantly being drawn downward, below the stage, to the orchestra pit - where the real operatic work is taking place. Although the visual beauty of the stage attracts the eye, you have to withstand the temptation and look downward, even though it's dark there, in the pit, so that your sense of sight can assist in the effect of selective hearing.

Anyone who succeeds in doing so derives endless enjoyment from this new Israeli opera: from its rich sound, which emerges from the stylized virtuosity of Yosef Bardanashvili, from his taste, from the fact that there is not a single banal moment in his composition for the orchestra. Although the plot of the opera is planted in the Middle Ages, Bardanashvili succeeds in conducting - according to its compositional nature - a dizzying journey that ranges from a musical and from Ashkenazi prayers, to Sephardic melodies, to jazz, to Puccini and Alben Berg, to Baroque and Romantic styles, to music for film soundtracks. Asher Fish and the orchestra played it beautifully, and raised the musical invention to the appropriate performance level.

But as is usually the case with operas, your glance - and your listening along with it - is constantly attracted upward, toward the stage. There, too, one can find wonderful moments: In the music for the chorus, which is daring in its tones and combines within it extra-Western ethnic elements that are rich in color. And the singing of the soloists alongside the chorus also provides lovely moments: Ira Bertman's singing is full of beauty, Edna Prochnik sings in a clear and dramatic voice, Gabi Sadeh sings with convincing skill.

But the music that came out of their mouths aroused amazement: Were these anachronistic recitatives, which are so unconvincing, written by the same composer? Why don't the actors talk, I felt like asking, what is the point of those rising and falling scales, which lack meaning? Where is the richness that wells up from below all the time, the cultural depth, the humor?

These, along with the confused plot of the opera, its boring libretto and the characters of doubtful morals, dominate the work, and cast a shadow on its orchestral and choral beauty. Anyone who manages to separate them, will benefit.