Angel of God

Controversy swirls around both Ofra Haza's life and the circumstances of her death. There is no argument about Bezalel Aloni's role in the success of this immensely popular Israeli singer: He built her career, while his in turn was built by hers, so he can hardly be seen as an objective observer. Some years ago, he wrote a book that gives his version of her life and death.

On Monday, "Ofra," a musical drama that Aloni based on his book, premiered at Kiryat Haim's Hatzafon Theater, a powerful institution in the north. It has a large subscription audience, some 30,000 strong, and Tel Aviv drama companies sometimes depend on their plays being acquired by Hatzafon. "Ofra" is the second play to be produced by the theater itself.

Plenty of Haifa dignitaries were there such as Mayor Yona Yahav, who cautiously steered his large frame amid the narrow rows. Some second-rate celebrities from Tel Aviv were also on hand, like Hana Laszlo and Tzvika Pik. There was also a special bus for entertainment and culture reporters. They know each other - and the little cakes served at premieres - very well.

It takes special bravery to watch a musical drama after an hour and a half on a bus with entertainment and culture reporters. They're usually quite buoyant - if only I had a shekel for every time one of them said "amazing."

The audience at the premiere was supportive and forgiving. They did have some polite criticism of Laszlo's figure and Pik's outfit, but unlike other premiere audiences, they didn't spare in their applause, whether during the show or after the curtain fell.

Indeed, Haza's songs were pretty, and the vocalist who performs them in the play, Liel Kolet, does a beautiful job. The audience clapped their hands to some songs, swaying to others.

Sometimes the whole hall was swaying. The music was good, the drama less so. Aloni makes no pretense of objectivity and can't be accused of anything like it. His play seems to be aimed at settling old accounts and opening new ones. The actors spoke their lines with great force and loud shouts, and the message was clear: Ofra Haza was an angel of God. Pure, honest, flawless. Her sister was a monster with a cigarette permanently lodged between her lips. Haza's husband, Doron Ashkenazi, was a crass hooligan, and God only knows what the holy virgin saw in him.

The writer himself also appears in the play. And - surprise! - he comes out looking good. In his play, Aloni inspires respect. Gentle but firm, talented but humble, a razor-sharp careerist but a loving and attentive husband. To his credit, it must be said he addresses the ugly rumors that surrounded his relations with Haza.

His way of refuting these rumors is to magnify and glorify the character of his wife, Ogenia - she is inflated to mythic proportions. Ogenia was there, says the playwright. She knew and she supported, so please stop all your unseemly gossip.

So who was responsible for the beloved singer's failed personal life? And who really was to blame for her death? Aloni's answer: Destiny. That's all there is to it. Go argue with that. A playwright can find no better solution than destiny to fill the gaps in his plot. In this production, directed by Alon Ofir, Aloni, as played somewhat wearily by Gavri Banai, blames destiny for the failures; the successes he modestly attributes to himself.

Kolet, meanwhile, is a marvelous singer and a mediocre actress. So Haza, when she isn't singing, is played by someone else: Liron Sela, who dashes around the stage wringing her hands in despair. Terrible things happen to her. No one understands her and no one appreciates her - all they do is pressure her to get married.

To sing Haza's songs in a deep and wonderful voice, Kolet pops out of clouds of bluish smoke, dressed in what can be described as authentic attire, but also as colorful curtain material.

The songs are performed against a mysterious backdrop of plastic seats hanging from diagonal metal pipes. The significance may be as deep as the sea - the sloping pipes may represent the slippery slope of Haza's life. But it also could be that they're simply a cheap prop, as is the white jacket worn by Uri Banai (who plays Ashkenazi and Haza's brother), which is at least three sizes too big on him.

There isn't much to say about the cocktail party that followed the premiere, except that it was pleasantly underlit and very crowded. For me, a minor incident marred the good atmosphere: a failed attempt to gain control of what looked like a tray of canapes. It turned out to be a tray of remnants on the way to the garbage. In my defense, let it be said that it was dark. And let it also be said that the waitress, to her credit, fought valiantly.