The First Murder as an Opera

An opera about the story of Cain and Abel - why didn't anyone think of it before? Only recently was the story adapted and staged as an opera by composer Tsippi Fleischer.

Noam Ben Zeev
Noam Ben-Zeev
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Noam Ben Zeev
Noam Ben-Zeev

An opera about the story of Cain and Abel - why didn't anyone think of it before?

Only recently was the story adapted and staged as an opera by composer Tsippi Fleischer (scenery and costumes: Michal Grove; lighting: Uri Rubinstein; production: Ofer Shemer). Fleischer specializes is basing her work on unique sources of inspiration - ancient Semitic languages such as those of Akad and Sumer, the remnants of the Coptic civilization, classical Arab Culture and Bedouin songs.

The opera "Cain and Abel" will be staged at the Music Festival and the "Now Time" Biennale (Rebecca Crown Theater, Jerusalem, October 9, 20:30; Tel Aviv Museum, October 11, 13:00).

"How would the world look without the first murder?"

"That's what I was thinking to myself," says Fleischer. "The opera opens with a symbiosis - total harmony between the two brothers and their sacrifices, sheep, which in the opera are also women. The brothers and their sheep live in a kind of commune. And then comes the murder, which is also the loss of innocence.

"Because it is related to the sacrifice of sheep, which are portrayed by women, it also hints at the murder of women in the family." God in Fleischer's opera, according to a libretto by Yosefa Even Shoshan, is called "Tzafon" [North], not the Biblical name, but rather a hint to the verse in Jeremiah: `Out of the north shall evil break through.'

"The libretto could have been turned into an anti-religious opera," she says, "to blame God for the tragedy He brought onto the world. But the divine entity here is not God in the religious sense - but rather the God of nature, which existed before the advent of monotheism, so that the murder is also a symbol of man's separation from nature. Before that there was chaos, but it was good. At the end of the opera, it is understood that the world has become far more evil."

"No one forgets the story after they learn it the first time," says Fleischer. "But in the opera there is no point in presenting the story as it is. That is what the Bible is for. What did I know about the brothers? Only the basic information, like what you find in an identity card: first name, not even the surname. One brother, a farmer, the other a shepherd, and that's it. But in the libretto, Cain turns out to be passionate and virile, and Abel is a more lyrical, gentler figure."

In the program, Yosefa Even Shoshan describes the brothers as "brothers-strangers," and after the murder, the heavens also part from the earth and become the domain of spirituality and charity, to which the souls of Cain and his sheep rise, and then there is the domain of the cruel earthiness of Cain and his isolation. Fleischer planned her music the same way. Ancient instruments, such as recorders and lutes join the earthy and the primeval, the ancient and the new. Rhythmic, declamatory arias are given to Cain, romantic-refined arias to Abel and his sheep. There is also use of composer's techniques, such as dodecaphony, which helps illustrate the sounds of the plot, and the use of special orchestration to depict the dialogue between the upper and lower worlds.

In her typical style, Fleischer took care to prepare a meticulous production of her opera. A year ago, she even recorded "Cain and Abel" in its entirety as a pre-premiere of the stage production with the Vienna Modern Masters recording company, with the participation of a different group of performers. This enabled the participants to use the music itself in the rehearsals currently being held. And there are a large number of participants: 25 musicians, soloists and dancers, conducted by the Czech Jerzy Mikula, and directed by Nima Yaakobi.

Anat Eini and Ana Virubelski will sing the part of the sheep, Sergei Nikitin and Shlomi Blumfeld are the brothers.

"Cain and Abel" is the flagship piece of the Israeli music festival "Now Time" this year. The opera won special funding and was helped by institutions such as the Levinsky Teachers College to conduct rehearsals.

The opera appears to have reaped success even before its premiere: The Musik Werkstadt Wien ensemble, a Viennese group that specializes in large chamber operas, particularly modern ones, will stage the opera this season in Vienna - and in Hebrew too. The opera is expected to be staged in other European opera houses as well.

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