The Jerusalem Opera Wants To Present Madcap Offenbach In The Middle East

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
13 April, 2021


When it comes to the Middle-East, there’s not an awful lot of operetta performance history that comes to mind. Certainly not when it comes to the more raunchy Offenbach titles which poke fun at conventional morals and call for the display of nudity. Yes, there’s the famous case of the Egyptian Khedive, Ismā’il Pasha (1830-1895), who built a new theatre in Cairo and inaugurated it with La belle Hélène. He wanted the one-and-only Hortense Schneider for the title role (now there’s a shocker) but “only” got Celine Montaland. Now, The Jerusalem Opera will present a double-bill of two one-act marriage farces.

Two men praying in Jerusalem at the Western Wall. (Photo: Anton Mislawsky)

Two men praying in Jerusalem at the Western Wall: opera (let alone operetta) is not high on the priority list of many citizens. (Photo: Anton Mislawsky)

The pieces in question are Offenbach’s 1857 Le Mariage aux Lanternes (The Wedding by Lantern-Light), in which the pastoral genre and village life with insecure farmers and gossiping widows are turned on their head, for social satire effect. The other is Une éducation manqué (An Incomplete Education) by Emmanuel Chabrier. It originally premiered in 1879. It’s a show about a drunken tutor giving his teenage pupil wedding-night advice. Well… figure the rest out yourself!

The two shows are now to be presented in productions that are “very funny,” but not vulgar, “maybe a little risqué.” That’s how the stage director, Noemi Schlosser, describes her approach for a city that has “zero opera culture.” And no operetta experience, certainly not of the Hortense Schneider kind. (Read more about her here.)

The Israeli government only gave a green light to go ahead with the opening of theatres four weeks ago, so the planning, casting and staging all had to happen rather short notice.

Sheet music cover for Offenbach's "Le Mariage aux Lanternes."

Sheet music cover for Offenbach’s “Le Mariage aux Lanternes.”

In a conversation with the Operetta Research Center Noemi Schlosser said: “With this joyous double bill performance of Le Mariage aux Lanternes by Offenbach and Une éducation manqué by Chabrier, the Jerusalem Opera finally welcomes her audience back into a magical, feathered world of chatter, prattle, twitter and gossip. Unrequited love, jealousy, misunderstanding and… too much wine lead the way for an evening of high tempo entertainment. When our love birds, finally reunited, end up celebrating their wedding night, they realize how clueless they are about what nuptial intimacy actually entails. Their endearing clumsiness will make you tear up… from laughter. And this, is a promise.”

To read more about Offenbach in the Middle East, check out Laurence Senelick’s Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture and the chapter “South of the equator, East of Suez.”

"Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture" (2018) by Laurence Senelick, together with the ground breaking "Offenbach und die Schauplätze seines Musiktheaters" (1999).

“Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture” (2018) by Laurence Senelick, together with the ground breaking “Offenbach und die Schauplätze seines Musiktheaters” (1999).

For more information on the Jerusalem Opera, click here. They recently presented A Concert of Love, Joy and Hope, as well as titles such as La Traviata, Elisir d’amore and Così fan tutte. Their Offenbach/Chabrier production is not yet listed, but will be soon.

Of course it would be interesting to see how a modern-day opéra bouffe such as Roger Neill/Julien Nitzberg’s 2006 The Beastly Bombing, or a Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by Tangles of True Love would work with an audience like that in Jerusalem, with songs like “I hate the Jews” poking fun at orthodox religious believes, written by a Jewish US-American author. (For more information, click here.)

A scene from the original production of "The Beastly Bombing." (Photo: Kim Gottlieb Walker)

A scene from the original Los Angeles production of “The Beastly Bombing,” praised by The New York Times (Photo: Kim Gottlieb Walker)

It’s the kind of edgy “fun” that Offenbach and his librettists also offered back in the 1850s and 60s. An edginess often overlooked today when people discuss “operetta” as a genre, not just in the Middle East but everywhere. Let’s wait and see if Jerusalem Opera will dare to go further… But first: Le Mariage aux Lanternes and Une éducation manqué.