Dorothea Shefer-Vanson

A Night at the Opera

Times are hard at the moment in Israel, with a sense of impending doom hanging over us as the politicians continue to pursue their objectives at all costs. So for a bit of light relief one goes to a production of Mozart’s marvellous opera Don Giovanni in the Tel Aviv home of the Israel Opera. You settle into your seat, nod politely to the person in the seat next to yours and glance at the programme, Before the opera begins the usual announcements about forthcoming performances and turning one’s cell phone off appear on the screen that fills the entire proscenium. The next opera will be something new, an opera based on the life of Theodore Herzl, the visionary who gave birth to the idea of a Jewish State. A colour portrait of a pensive Herzl appears on the screen, followed by this text (in Hebrew), taken from Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and based to a great extent on the text of his novel Altneuland describing the new state as he envisioned it.

From the Declaration of Independence in accordance with Herzl’s vision:

The State of Israel will be open to Jewish immigration and the ingathering of the exiles; it will work to develop the country for the benefit of all its residents; it will be founded on th basis of the aspiration for justice and peace as described by the Prophets; it will adhere to complete equality of social and political rights for all its citizens without any differences on the basis of religion, race or gender. It will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture, and will maintain the places that are sacred to all religions. It will adhere to the principles of the declaration of the United Nations.

The audience breaks into spontaneous applause and cheering. It is a strange, almost other-worldly experience to find oneself together with another thousand or so respectable (and mainly elderly) citizens roaring approbation of an abstract text in Hebrew on a huge screen. So, it seems, even at the opera we can’t get away from the ever-present situation which clouds the reality in which we find ourselves living.

The text disappears and the orchestra plays the overture, with Mozart’s brilliant musical insight into the human psyche, crashing chords denoting the fate that awaits the eponymous villain, the scales in a minor key that manage to create a menacing atmosphere and all the usual tuneful twists and turns with which Mozart delights us. This atmosphere continues throughout the opera, with dramatic development, delightful arias sung by beautiful ladies in elegant dresses, and no lack of erotic innuendo – both in the music and in the acting in this particular production.

We are drawn to and yet disgusted by the antics of the randy, amoral ‘hero’ of the piece, who unashamedly pursues every woman who happens to cross his path, regardless of their situation, trampling rough-shod over their emotions. And yet, despite ourselves, we find Giovanni’s insouciant lack of scruples amusing, and are delighted by the snappy interaction between him and his reluctant servant Leporello. We watch in hypnotized fascination as the nefarious lothario finally gets his just desserts and is punished for having killed the outraged father of one of his conquests.

No one wishes a similar fate for any member of the current government, yet there are some disturbing resemblances between the behaviour of some of them and that of Don Giovanni.

About the Author
I was born and brought up in England. I am a graduate of the LSE and the Hebrew University. I have lived in Israel since 1964. I am an experienced translator, editor and writer.