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LGBT-friendly remake of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is vintage Hanan Snir

CM 10/08/2021 4

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Hanan Snir is something of a maverick. That’s not to say he has not paid his dues at the core of theatrical derring-do in this country.
In words of one syllable, when the now 78 year old director is around, always expect the unexpected.
Perhaps that is why he had absolutely no qualms about casting two women as the protagonists of the new Israeli Opera production of I Capuleti e I Montecchi (The Capulets and the Montagues, aka Romeo and Juliet) by Vincenzo Bellini. There are six performances lined up at the Israeli Opera House in Tel Aviv from August 12 to 27.
I asked him whether he had any concerns over the Opera House audiences focusing too much on the fact that the iconic Shakespearean lovers belong to the same gender, that they may be overly transfixed on the societal “taboo” rather than the actual storyline. “No, I am not worried about that,” he responds. “I am not flying the flag of the LGBT community. But we shouldn’t focus on that aspect of the opera. It should be normative in the 21st century.”
The fact that Snir is in the mix, let alone at the helm of the production staging the opera about the famed ill-fated lovers from Verona is pretty remarkable. While he has a track record that is second to none in the trade, it has been quite a while since he lent his gifts and hard-earned professional nous to the opera world. “I’ve done two operas with the Israeli Opera in the past,” he notes. In fact, the “past” he refers to is almost ancient history. He made his debut there in 1985, when he directed English baroque composer Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, followed three years later by The Turn of The Screw, by 20th century British composer Benjamin Britten.

Now, a full 33 years later, Snir is back at the Opera House to oversee his left field take on one of the greatest, and most tragic love stories of all time. He is joined on the forthcoming project by a stellar and seasoned team, including house conductor Dan Ettinger, Russian-born soprano Alla Vasilevetsky and Israeli-born counterpart Tal Bergman in the eponymous roles, baritone Noah Briger as Giulietta’s father – aka Juliet – tenor Eitan Drori in the role of Giulietta’s fiancé Tebaldo, and Soviet-born bass-baritone Vladimir Braun as Lorenzo.
In fact, all the cards were stacked against Snir making an operatic reprise, after all this time. “I don’t read music and I don’t know Italian,” he says. That said, he is an accomplished pro. “Directing is directing,” he drily proclaims. “The fun bit in opera is the score.”
Snir may not be a professional musician himself but he is not entirely bereft of musical talent. He says he has always loved singing and actually did part of his military service with an IDF entertainment troupe. Then again, things did not exactly work out for him there. “I was accepted for a Nahal band by mistake,” he chuckles. “We rehearsed a musical, by Naomi Shemer, for five months and then they had to cut down on the cast and I was one those dropped.” So much for a brilliant career on army stages.
Snir’s current gig is even more surprising, considering he is not an ardent fan of the operatic format in the first place. But he does know a thing or two about the emotional machinations involved in conveying dramatic story lines. He has a master’s degree in consulting psychology and when he is not busy directing – he proudly proclaims that he never takes on more than one production a year – he earns a crust as a psychodrama therapist.
He doesn’t see the need to make a big deal out of the single sex titular pairing, precedence notwithstanding. “As far as I know this is the first time two women have been cast in these roles, but I don’t think it is so noteworthy. Bellini had women playing Romeo before, in a breeches role.” That refers to a tried and trusted theatrical directing plot whereby a woman plays a male role dressed as a man. In Shakespeare’s day female parts were frequently played by cross-dressed men and, in modern times, women have returned the compliment onstage.
Anyway, Snir has put in his shift and earned the right to mold scripts to the best of his gifted and informed understanding. After doing a degree in theater at the University of Tel Aviv he moved to London to study directing at the world renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
The glittering list of RADA alumni that have come through the ranks and risen to the top of their profession includes the likes of Peter O’Toole, Harold Pinter, Sir Richard Attenborough, Vivien Leigh and Sir Jonathan Pryce. The latter Welsh actor was a contemporary of Snir’s at the London school. “I even got to direct him,” Snir notes with just a hint of pride.
After five years of studies, and gaining some invaluable experience in Britain, as well as taking the opportunity to catch shows in the West End and elsewhere, Snir returned here with the promise of work with the Cameri Theater company where he had worked before his London sojourn.
Snir’s reentry to the Israeli theatrical scene did not go entirely smoothly but he eventually hooked up with our national theater, Habima, and he has been there ever since, building up a weighty portfolio over the four decades.
For now, he is taking a timeout from the theater, with his opera jaunt, and he says he has enjoyed every minute of the preliminaries. “It is wonderful working alongside Dan Ettinger. He is a great guy, extremely talented and a wonderful performer.” There aren’t many who would argue with any of those accolades.
Snir says it has been a rewarding experience on all fronts. “There is a great team at the opera. They are so professional. I’ve had great fun.”
So, is there any chance he may wait less than 33 years to take on his next operatic gig? “I don’t know,” he replies. “I don’t plan that far ahead. I am going to the Cameri after this, to direct As A Few Days [novel by Meir Shalev], and then back to Habima to do a play based on a book by [Jewish-Austrian novelist, playwright and journalist] Stefan Zweig. I enjoy the variety.”
That much is abundantly clear, and has been for many years. The Israeli Opera House audiences should be in for an entertaining and thought-provoking treat.
For tickets and more information: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il

Source: Jerusalem Post

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