Eilat’s WOW debuts cabaret-style opera for beginners

Opera isn’t known for its accessibility. WOW Theater bucks the trend with a family-friendly cabaret-style show of opera’s greatest hits, designed to entertain opera devotees and uncultured commoners all the same.

What’s more, the show, “An Operatic Journey All Around the World,” features seven sopranos with voices that could shatter glass. Each woman is a powerhouse.

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The show, which premiered on November 25 at the Isrotel Royal Garden WOW Theater in Eilat, winds its way through the geography of the world, spotlighting different composers, genres and shows. Songs range from classic selections like Les Contes d’Hoffman or Carmen while deviating into musicals like West Side Story and Porgy and Bess.

They even veer unexpectedly into simple but elegant renditions of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Let it Be/Lu Yehi,” arranged to play to the strengths of the ensemble’s gentle harmony and soulful trills.

Backed up by a pianist conducting a five-piece orchestra, the sopranos work congenially with their instrumental counterparts. What could have been a duel between commanding singers and masterful musicians becomes a lovely conversation of musical whispers, squeals and roars.

The pianist served as emcee and even joined in a duet with one of the sopranos, in one of the evening’s rousing moments. He steered the night’s program with confidence and grace, despite a few technical glitches that clearly distracted the singers and irked audience members.

Other than the sole male foray into the spotlight, the show puts a singular focus on the power of the female voice. Each soprano sings several solos, with rotating group numbers woven nicely into the show’s rhythm.

Though the show as a whole doesn’t exactly capture the magic and majesty it intends to, there are a few moments when all seven singers are on stage, with voices joined together. What results is the crystalline timbre of light hitting water.

An otherwise unexceptional 90 minutes is entirely worth these few moments of pure vocal magic.

Whether or not the show achieves its purpose of exposing unenthusiastic listeners to the thrill of opera is unclear – one aspect that certainly hurt WOW’s cause was the cheesy rotating background screens. Les Miserables isn’t done any favors by a goofy graphic of Paris streets witnessing the changing seasons.

If WOW really wanted to hook uninterested parties on opera, they could benefit from cutting some of the blander arias and sticking with the showstoppers. Songs like Offenbach’s “Doll Song” or Mozart’s “Queen of the Night,” have built-in plot that translate easily. Others performed in foreign languages don’t exactly work out of context and end up evoking a vague theme of heartbreak or angst with a performer awkwardly pacing around stage.

The show’s theme doesn’t add much to the production but it doesn’t detract either. Audience members probably forgot that they were supposed to be transported “all around the world” after the second song, but more likely out of gleeful enjoyment than thematic weariness.

If the show’s concept was just seven women with exquisite voices joined together in song, audience members would have likely been just as entertained. The consummate performers command the stage and engender an undeniably enjoyable evening.

With a few snoozes along the way, which one might argue is itself a quintessential aspect of experiencing opera, the show mostly bounces and frolics, moving quickly between songs and maintaining an upbeat momentum. Everyone might not be convinced, but this pleasant night of theater will certainly have at least some audience members ordering opera subscriptions.

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