Ta Opera Zuta, established 10 years ago, is an ensemble whose members are musicians, singers and researchers in the fields of art, humanities and theater. The ensemble will premiere Erik Satie’s Socrate at the Elma Music Center in Zichron Ya’acov, which has become renowned for its excellent acoustics.
The opera was commissioned to the French composer by a musical patron in 1916 and performed in 1919.
“There are several versions of the piece. We opted for the one with a singer and a piano. It could be a soprano or an alto, but we invited Israeli counter-tenor Doron Schleifer to play the role,” says musicology professor Michal Grover-Friedlander of Tel Aviv University. The cast also includes Japanese dancer Ryo Takenoshita and Israeli dancers Noam Sander and Batel Dotan.
Daniel Chervinsky, a secondyear conducting student, will accompany the performance on the piano. Later this year, the production will travel to Waseda University in Tokyo.
“We will spend an entire month there, which includes lectures, discussions, master classes, an open rehearsal and performances,” says Grover- Friedlander.
“We worked in Germany and in Italy, and finally at Tel Aviv University,” says the musicologist.
“We stage a new production once every year or two,” she explains, “since the theater work is accompanied by in-depth research. For example, for the current production, we created a brochure that includes five articles.
The articles are usually written by our students who are working on their degrees. As a musicologist specializing in opera, I write an article about every opera we stage. These articles will form the chapters of my book, which will be published in a year or two.”
The group stages modern or minor and lesser-known operatic pieces that do not suit major stages.
“We also work on the borderline between opera and musical theater and try to bring freshness to the somewhat frozen world of opera. The group appeals to younger and more open audiences and brings together people of different disciplines,” says Grover-Friedlander.
Her husband, philosophy professor Eli Friedlander, traditionally serves as the stage designer for the group’s productions, while she directs.
“Other members of the ensemble are young artists at the beginning of their career – musicians, actors, acrobats. We improvise, we rehears a lot, we learn to think as a team,” she says.
Why did they choose Socrate? “This is arguably one of the most important but less known of Satie’s works,” she says. “He was quite a satirical composer, but here it’s hard to define the genre of his opera. At the time it was written, the audience found it difficult to decide whether it was a serious piece or a joke, and that is how we interpret it, balancing between philosophy and music.
We have come to the conclusion that Satie invented his own Socrates, as there are no real texts by Plato in it. Also, since we were invited to Japan, I chose a piece that epitomizes Western philosophy, which gives us a lot of opportunities to work together on this piece and to write about it. In addition, Satie is extremely popular in Japan.”
The project was commissioned by the Institute for Advanced Studies together with the Institute for Opera and Music Theater Studies of Waseda University and supported by the Elma Music Center.
“Socrate will be premiered at Elma, which is a very special place.
Lily Epstein, who established the center, does her best to create a different approach to arts in Israel.
Here, artists are always at the forefront. We will perform in the smaller hall which is called Cube because of its modular design. The audience will be seated in a sort of pit in the center of the hall, while the show is performed around them,” she says.