“My dear Ninette, I know you have a garden and I would love to delve in it,” the gondolier sang to his beloved. Making delicate circles with his fingers in imitation of historical Venetian singers, countertenor Doron Schleifer poured forth his desire to the accompaniment of a harpsichord and a Venetian mandolin (like a soprano lute, but played with a pick).
The song opened a program of secular Venetian music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, performed in costume yesterday afternoon at the Henry Crown Symphony Hall (part of the Jerusalem Theater complex). The concert was part of the Etnachta chamber music series that features outstanding musicians, most of them young Israelis.
“Cara La mia Ninetta” opened the first act of this staged concert, in which the music and lyrics expressed the excitement and comic side of falling in love, as Etnachta producer and announcer Hayuta Devir explained.
In Act Two, which reflected the conflicts and surprises of love, Schleifer appeared again alongside soprano Ye’ela Avital in the Monteverdi duet “Bel pastor.” The shepherdess coyly pestered the shepherd with her repeated questions: “Do you love me?” “How do you love me?” “But how much?” “How much?” The scene was particularly amusing because the shepherdess, decked out in long blond curls but with a stubbly beard, was none other than Schleifer; Avital played the shepherd.
Avital has a lovely, clear soprano voice, and Schleifer showed that he, like Avital, was fully capable of producing the difficult trills and flourishes of Baroque music.
The group’s musical director, Yizhar Karshon, who played the harpsichord; Amit Tiefenbrunn, who played the viola da gamba; and Avi Avital, who played the mandolin (and who has the distinction of being the first mandolin player every nominated for a classical-music Grammy), were all decked out in knee breeches and white stockings. They put me in mind of the married men of Toldos Aharon, a strict hassidic sect headquartered in Jerusalem, who wear striped gray coats, black knee breeches, and white stockings, though I doubt these Hassidim would ever be caught warbling about the pangs of earthly love.
The Etnachta series is immensely popular—yesterday’s concert filled the 750-seat hall—but it is an endangered species that producer Devir has fought vigorously to keep alive. The programs, Mondays at 5, often include works by Israeli composers, sometimes even premieres. This free series is one of Jerusalem’s best bargains.
Text copyright 2012 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.