Posted by: operatheaterink | July 30, 2019

Opera Review and Opinion: Operalia 2019, Prague, July 30, 2019

Operalia 2019: My Point of View

SEEN JULY 26, 2019

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I tend to not always agree with the judges regarding the designated winners of various competitions. In the case of Operalia 2019, which took place at the National Theatre in Prague, culminating with the final round on July 26 — I am not sure about what I think. There was so much talent in the room, so many singers with incredible voices, that I feel they should have been colleagues, not competitors.

Although I was not in the hall to hear the singers live –therefore could not decipher the size of their voices or if the voices carried into the hall — I know that my choice of winners would have been slightly different than the outcome. I specifically focused on the male voices since it seemed easier for me to delineate one from the other, and since, point blank, I love the sound of rich baritones and basses, and an occasional tenor with a unique timbre.

I would have made Gihoon Kim the first-place winner. He placed second. He has a baritone (almost bass-baritone) voice that resembles a chocolate truffle, and he has a dynamic emotional stage presence onstage.

I do not know if the jury was looking for diamonds in the rough or already fine-tuned emeralds. With Kim, they had the latter. Since members of the jury were general managers and others interested in casting, it is possible that they were not looking for raw talent but for singers ready to be cast.

But there was a diamond in the semi-rough that I believe should have placed: Mario Bahg, the tenor from South Korea. Although Xabier Anduaga received first place and displayed a fine tenor sound, Bahg has a unique lyric sound coupled with fine musicianship. He needs coaching to expand upon his demeanor as an actor. But the timbre of his voice is reminiscent of Gigli, Björling and now, Calleja. His tone has a rare beauty. He is not a diva (or divo) onstage, maybe not as secure as some of the others, but his musicianship allowed him to float high pianissimos which rendered me speechless. The winner was clearly king of the high C’s, but it is even rarer to find a tenor with the tonal beauty of Mario Bahg. I must add, however, that his “Faust” aria for the semifinals evoked my fervent commentary, not his performance for the finals. I have learned that repertoire and choice of arias is significant. It is possible that judges only focus on what they hear on the final day and do not hark back to prior performances. It is most possible that the jury changes between rounds. I am writing about Bahg because although he did not place, I believe that he deserves recognition and will one day shine if he expands upon his gift and remains persistent.

I also liked baritone Bongani Justice Kubheka from South Africa. Since Plácido Domingo nurtures the contestants in his competition, I hope to one day hear Kubheka as the elder Germont in “La Traviata” at LA Opera, and Kim as Posa in “Don Carlo.” Kim will also make a fine Boris one day.

The jury did an excellent job by making soprano Adriana Gonzalez the top all-round female opera winner. Mezzo-soprano Maria Kataeva deserved second place. Although not Latin, Mexican or Spanish, her Zarzuela performance showed energy, style and grace.

An overlapping of the first-place opera and Zarzuela winners occurred. Other worthy contestants might have been better served had there been less overlap.

The various Fach categories helped delineate the contestants so that, for example, the big-voiced Wagnerians could be separated for the Birgit Nilsson Prize, which was awarded to sopranos Felicia Moore and Christina Nilsson, who also placed third in the opera category.

Thank you Plácido Domingo for enabling young singers to be seen and heard by general managers and casting directors. You are giving back to the arts and enabling opera to remain at the forefront of the artistic world at a time when arts education is lacking in our public schools and must be restored.

Tenor Mario Bahg

Posted by: operatheaterink | June 21, 2019

Opera Review: ‘La Traviata,’ Los Angeles Opera, June 21, 2019

The Stars Sparkle in LA Opera’s ‘La Traviata.’

Adela Zaharia as Violetta in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “La Traviata.”


By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Original for Beverly Hills Courier
New commentary and additions of second cast here

I have seen Marta Domingo’s Art Deco Los Angeles Opera production of “La Traviata” a number of times now, and it gets better each time I see it.

I may be an old-fashioned kind of girl who loves the older versions, like the LA Opera revival in 2006 starring Renée Fleming, but this updated version to the 1920s works, makes sense, and respects the composer’s music. It is in keeping with today’s worldwide need to modernize everything in society to keep up with modern technology. But this production does not hit you over the head with crazy new elements like cartoon characters or high-tech projections. It tells the old story, which was set in the 1800s but has often been staged back to the 1700s; however, instead of being about a French courtesan or “demimondaine,” Marta Domingo has made the story about a party girl during the flapper era.

I have roamed to the Music Center a number of times through the years to see this production. More kinks are removed with each run, and the production has been fine-tuned with colorful sets and costumes that dazzle.

Patterned after the real Marie Duplessis who became Marguerite Gautier in Alexandre Dumas’ “La Dame aux Camélias” and Violetta Valéry in Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Violetta in the original opera is a French courtesan with beauty and class. Alfredo Germont meets, falls in love with her, and soon lives with her in a cottage on the French countryside.

Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, cannot fathom the idea that his son is cohabitating with a “demimondaine.” He explains to Violetta that her scandalous affair with his son will affect his daughter’s wedding plans and urges her to leave him. At first, Violetta is unwilling, then consents to honor Giorgio’s wishes. Since she cannot tell Alfredo the true reason for her departure, he scorns her at a party hosted by their friend, Flora. Ridden with guilt while Violetta is dying, Giorgio tells Alfredo the truth, and the two make their way to Violetta’s residence. The two lovers are reunited, but it is too late.

In Marta Domingo’s version, the party-like gathering in the first act is during the Roaring Twenties. Not only are the costumes and sets updated, but so are the reactions between the women and men. The flirting between Violetta and Alfredo is more overt, modern and blunt than what occurs in the traditional setting of the opera, which is more subtle.

The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave does not change from one production to the other, but the tone or acting of the singing dialogue does.

Alfredo (Rame Lahaj, June 1, 9, 13 and Charles Castronovo, June 16, 19, 22) sings a drinking song, “brindisi,” and flirts with Violetta with “Un dì, felice, eterea.” Violetta (Adela Zaharia) sings “Ah, fors’è lui” which flowers into the famous “Sempre libera” aria, “Ever Free.”

The first scene is cleverly staged with a large vintage automobile driven onstage. I don’t like its intrusiveness, but it does set the period with a jolt.

The sets allow us to suspend our imagination. We see an inside room with sparkling stars in the background. Nothing divides the inside from the outside. Poetic magic.

With a glitzy discotheque-type glimmering chandelier hanging from above and the dazzling costumes and Art Deco setting, Flora’s party scene keeps the audience wide-eyed and watching. The dancing is well-choreographed by Kitty McNamee and enacted by technically clean dancers, including Louis A. Williams Jr.

Flora (Peabody Southwell) becomes a significant character in a scene that rarely focuses on anyone but Alfredo, Violetta, and the scenery and spectacle. She is a focused singer-actress who is always in character whether acting or reacting.

Violetta sings a heartfelt “Addio, del passato” toward the end of the opera so that we in the audience hope that Alfredo makes it in time.

Baritones Vitaliy Bilyy and Igor Golovatenko share the role of the elder Germont. Golovatenko sings Alfredo’s father with authority and reserve.

In 2006, tenor Joseph Calleja displayed a gorgeous vocal ring in the role of Alfredo — I remember hearing tones that were reminiscent of Björling — but Calleja lacked the acting prowess to elicit the needed audience excitement. In 2014, Arturo Chacón-Cruz’s youthful Alfredo was apt, and he was well-cast opposite his elder Germont, sung by tenor Plácido Domingo in a baritonal role. But still, Chacón-Cruz’s overall performance did not sparkle enough to be memorable. Now, in 2019, Castronovo’s Alfredo sings with fluid lyric tones that flow from a virile exterior. The contrast between the ring of Castronovo and the chocolate of Golovatenko is just what Verdi intended.

In 2006, soprano Elizabeth Futral sang with verve, but her Violetta lacked soul. In 2014, Nino Machaidze sang with great lyricism and an ability to shade and color each note. Adela Zaharia’s sound has a warm vocal timbre with fullness during the coloratura and high notes.

However, the three main characters on June 19 (sung by Castronovo, Zaharia and Golovatenko) gave mind-directed performances that should have been rounder and warmer. As I walked out of the theatre, I was thinking exactly what the woman walking next to me was thinking. She told me that some of the scenes seemed “one-dimensional.” There was no flow, just a one-dimensional simplicity between the characters.

The characters didn’t communicate. There was nothing going on between Alfredo’s father and Violetta by the end of their scene in the second act. There should be. We should see that Giorgio is conflicted by what he has told Violetta because he is developing fatherly feelings for her and likes her. Everything is complicated, not simplistic. The two seemed to be singing to themselves.

The ensemble includes Christopher Job as Doctor Grenvil, Erica Petrocelli as Annina, Juan Carlos Heredia as Marquis d’Obigny, Alok Kumar as Gastone and Wayne Tigges as Baron Douphol. Good voices . . . Good ensemble.

As the wife of Plácido Domingo, who is the general director of LA Opera, Marta Domingo has had the luxury of time to perfect every aspect of this production so that it is near perfection. A number of the singers have won or placed in her husband’s Operalia competition. He is nurturing their careers and appropriate casting. He is giving back. As for his elder Germont with LA Opera in 2014, he sang with authority as did baritone Dwayne Croft in 2006 and Golovatenko in the current production. Whether baritone or baritonal, the appearance of age and stature help.

Domingo has sung the elder Germont with soprano Angel Blue at La Scala to rave reviews. I have followed the soprano’s career since she was a graduate student at UCLA. I would like to see this dynamic coupling at LA Opera.

Conductor James Conlon’s energy as the company’s music director always motivates the orchestra while he maintains a sensitivity toward the singers that few conductors can equal.

This production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion is worthy of another run. The sets are bright and cheery. It is a unique and classic production of a classic opera, a must-see for those over the age of 16 to learn about opera, and for those who have loved this opera their whole lives long as I have.

Director and Designer: Marta Domingo
Conductor: James Conlon
Lighting: Alan Burrett
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee
Chorus Director: Grant Gershon

Adela Zaharia as Violetta and Erica Petrocelli as Annina in LA Opera’s 2019 production of “La Traviata.”


Ron Howard’s ‘Pavarotti’ Documentary is a Gift to the Masses

Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland, 1976


SEEN JUNE 7, 2019

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

I loved Ron Howard’s documentary on Luciano Pararotti. I rushed to see the film after some of my Facebook friends shared links to reviews by critics that didn’t. Boy was I surprised when I loved every minute of it.

The sound is stupendous for starters, and Ron Howard, who produced and directed the film, enables the viewer to adore this big bear of a man not only for his voice, but also for his lust for life. Ironically, Pavarotti passed away far too young in 2007 of pancreatic cancer.

Some opera buffs were offended that Pavarotti had abandoned them by leaving the opera house to sing in arenas. I don’t care. I don’t care that he sang with rock stars. I don’t care that he gave his money to charities. I don’t even care that he left his wife and married someone 30 years his junior. Ron Howard has humanized him

Pavarotti almost died when very young, and when he pulled through, he decided to live each day to its fullest. He was just a peasant who loved to cook pasta and be among people. But he was born with a gorgeous voice and gave his life to nurturing it.

Yes, Pavarotti deserves this documentary. Thank you, Ron Howard, for producing and directing it. Maybe Pavarotti brought opera to the masses, but you have brought the masses to Pavarotti.

I’d recognize his voice anywhere. When I was 16, my father offered me a sweet-sixteen party or a tape recorder, since I was studying voice from him and could record my lessons if I opted for the tape recorder. My father was an opera singer in Vienna and Prague in the 1930s but lost his ability to sing during the Holocaust.

I chose the tape recorder.

I listened to Pavarotti a lot on that tape recorder, and to soprano Joan Sutherland singing coloratura from “Lucia.” I once interviewed tenor Neil Shicoff, and he admitted to me that he often listened to Pavarotti before he sang. If you listen to someone who has near perfect technique, you then sing better yourself, my father often told me.

Legendary tenor Plácido Domingo said in the film that singing came easy to Pavarotti. He had a natural voice.

Pavarotti was a lyric tenor who could hit high focused notes easily. In the film, archival footage and footage from his family and widow are used to explain his technique. He describes how he learned breath control from soprano Joan Sutherland.

My father always told me to listen to Sutherland because she was a coloratura soprano who could sing anywhere on the keyboard with a rich quality that never thinned to a squeak. My father thought she learned her technique from her husband, conductor Richard Bonynge, and that she sang soprano, but later became successful when she sang the roles of high coloraturas with singular fullness. I only know that Pavarotti gave her credit for his mastery of breath support.

Pavarotti sang with a relaxed and open throat so that he could place his tones wherever he wanted with a connection to the diaphragm. I could literally hear his tones vibrating in the mask. Some singers talk of tones floating on the breath or shooting forward into the auditorium. Some talk about physically moving parts of their vocal anatomy to achieve certain sounds. All I know is that Pavarotti was a master of technique and produced focused, glorious sound.

As I listened to the narration in this film, I felt like crying. I am not sure it was due to the familiar arias he sang that make me cry, or if it was due to his bittersweet story, but by the end of the film, I didn’t know if I could get up off my seat, or if I would need to sit and watch the credits to calm down.

Aside from family members and Pavarotti’s two wives, Adua and Nicoletta, contributors interviewed and seen in film clips include soprano Madelyn Renée Monti, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, Zubin Mehta, tenors José Carreras and Plácido Domingo, Carol Vaness, Princess Diana, Lang Lang, Andrea Griminelli, tenor Vittorio Grigòlo, Nelson Mandela, Bono, Phil Donahue and Johnny Carson, classical music critic and author Anne Midgette, and promoters and managers including Herb Breslin, Harvey Goldsmith and Tibor Rudas, plus others.

Some critics have written that the film does not depict the true man. I don’t care. Pavarotti is no longer alive. He was a great artist. I feel that through the film, I got to know him better.

Simply hearing Pavarotti sing arias from “La Bohème,” “Rigoletto,” “La Fille du Régiment,” “Manon,” “Tosca” and “Pagliacci” would have been enough for me to love this documentary. The film helps me to remember Pavarotti at the beginning of his career, the Pavarotti who acted and moved freely onstage, as the clip of him singing Nemorino in “L’Elisir d’Amore” achieves. The film also helps me to remember the man Pavarotti became at the end of his career. I do not know that he lost his way as some critics have said or written. Ron Howard simply shows how Pavarotti branched out in many directions while exploring the landscape.

Pavarotti’s friend Bono criticizes the critics for writing that Pavarotti’s voice was not at its peak during his later years, saying that Pavarotti’s life experiences had added to his presentation. Yes, that is true, but many singers develop vocal technical problems as they age. That is the reason having grounded technique at the beginning of one’s career is important to call upon later on, to prolong the longevity of the voice. Bono’s comments on the subject are the only ones that I would have edited out. Either they expose his lack of vocal technique knowledge, or he was simply trying to defend Pavarotti when criticized since Pavarotti is no longer here to speak for himself, which was indeed loyal and admirable of him.

Some critics are trying to compare Pavarotti to Plácido Domingo in the context of this film. The film is about Pavarotti, not Domingo. Domingo is cultured, refined and respectful when speaking of his deceased colleague in the film. The two may be tenors, but are completely different when it comes to vocal timbre, technique, personality, goals, accomplishments, and even in the roles they have chosen beyond the normal repertoire. Each has created his own legacy. Both are opera legends.

And although this documentary focuses on Pavarotti and makes him shine above all the rest, except for maybe Enrico Caruso with the beginning clip being on the Amazon — there were other great tenors, including the lyrical Beniamino Gigli; the one-and-only Jüssi Björling whose tones cried like a Stradivarius violin; and Domingo, a force of nature after the age of 70, who adds one character after another to his repertoire, conducts, and is the general director of LA Opera — to name a few. They are all opera legends, although Pavarotti did manage with the help of Herb Breslin and other promoters, to reach the masses more than any other tenor in recent memory.

The film makes it appear that Pavarotti was the leading tenor of the “Three Tenors.” As far as I can remember, he was not. The so-called marriage of the three tenors enabled José Carreras to sing and perform after his illness. The two remaining tenors — Plácido Domingo and Carreras — clearly respect Pavarotti’s artistry, as is evident in the clip where they are deciding which aria to perform. No rivalry is displayed, just camaraderie. Their bantering before singing “Nessun dorma” is enjoyable, and hearing the three tenors sing high notes in unison is a memory I will not soon forget.

Who knows, maybe Pavarotti was the leading tenor of the group, or maybe the leading tenor was Domingo. My deceased mother loved Domingo’s voice and acting. She didn’t like it when Pavarotti waved his big white handkerchief. Only now do I understand the reason for that handkerchief.

I loved this film. Take everyone you know to see it. And don’t forget to bring a big white handkerchief. You just might need it.

Director-Producer: Ron Howard
Writer: Mark Monroe
Sound: Chris Jenkins
Producers: Brian Grazer, Nigel Sinclair, Michael Rosenberg, Jeanne Elfant Festa
Executive Producers: David Blackman, Dickon Stainer, Nicholas Ferrall, Guy East, Paul Crowder, Lorenzo Mieli, Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Gangarossa, Marc Ambrose
Distribution: CBS Films
Production Companies: Brian Grazer Imagine Entertainment, Polygram Entertainment, Decca Records, StudioCanal and White Horse Pictures
1 hour 54 minutes
At the AMC Century City and ArcLight Cinemas in Hollywood
Multiple Theatres, June 14

Posted by: operatheaterink | October 12, 2018

Opera Review: ‘Don Carlo,’ Los Angeles Opera, Oct. 2, 2018

Opera Review: ‘Don Carlo,’ Los Angeles Opera
Oct. 2, 2018

Ramon Vargas as Don Carlo and Ana Maria Martinez as Elisabeth de Valois in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Don Carlo.” (Photo: Cory Weaver / LA Opera)

SEPTEMBER 29, 2018
By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink
Original in Beverly Hills Courier at

I really wanted to write a review of LA Opera’s current production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo” even though I am in the midst of moving from Beverlywood to Hidden Hills. But I guess it wasn’t meant to be.

I have been seeing signs adorn the streets near Beverly Hills and around Los Angeles
which brand tenor Plácido Domingo as the star of “Don Carlo.” He may be, but then so
may also be Ramón Vargas as Don Carlo, Ana María Martínez as Elisabeth de Valois,
Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli, and the magnificent Ferruccio Furlanetto as King
Philip II. Each singer has the ability to shine or be forgotten, to be a team member or a standout star. The two main roles and stars are usually Don Carlo and Elisabeth with King Philip close behind, and the other roles are secondary. But because Verdi wrote a score with exquisite arias for all, secondary roles can reach to new heights, and primary roles can fall by the way side. One thing is certain: Domingo is a draw, and he’s the general director of LA Opera.

I saw this production of “Don Carlo” twice in 2006, and had a ticket for Sept. 29 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I just love the music.

But as I said, I guess this review wasn’t in the cards. I have not been well, and I got all dressed up to drive downtown to hear this opera, but when I got into the garage, no one would help me find a spot to park, and I was there almost an hour early. I was directed to go to the fourth level where the disabled parking is, but no one there would help me. After trying and trying to find a spot, I finally gave up and left the parking lot and went to the valet parking area where the cars were lined up like canned sardines. So I drove onto the freeway and got lost since I had also lost my sense of direction. Then a young woman finally oriented me back toward Beverly Hills after I turned into a gas station and honked for help.

I made it home a bit frazzled, but I still really wanted to get my views out about the word, “star,” and what it means to star in “Don Carlo.” I also wanted to write about the role of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, and the type of singer I believe Posa should be. So I am still going to write some of my thoughts here, and I hope you will go to the opera and decide for yourselves.

Based on Friedrich von Schiller’s play of the same name, the action in “Don Carlo” takes place in Spain in the sixteenth century at the time of the Spanish Inquisition. The political climate between France and Spain is such that Elisabeth marries King Philip II instead of her true love, Don Carlo, his son. Carlo’s friend, Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, entreats Carlo to go to the Netherlands to help restore religious freedoms for the Flemish, then oppressed by Spanish rule. Catholics vs. Protestants — Carlo goes against his father’s ideals to fight for the Protestants in Flanders. Posa dies for his friend Carlo, and Carlo continues to embark on his friend’s mission.

Domingo, a great tenor with ringing high notes, no longer has the high notes. Of course, the audience never hears them since rather than sing tenor roles at the age of 77, Domingo has chosen to continue in the grand profession he loves and has mastered, by both conducting and singing roles with lower tessituras. In some roles, baritones can be lyric baritones with voices that almost mimic tenors, while in other parts, they should have voices that can be chocolaty, rich and full, and almost have the sound of a bass-baritone in quality. Posa is just such a role. What makes “Don Carlo” such a melodic opera is that the timbres of the various voices blend to create beauty that surpasses the sounds inherent in many other operas. So although Domingo is able to sing some baritonal roles well, in this particular opera — even though he always sings with zest, vigor, youthfulness, and a flawless sound and technique — he still has the ring of a tenor, and nothing can make his Posa have the rich, sonorous quality that is usually required of the Verdi baritone. Yet, a novice to opera, not a true opera buff, can be very satisfied with Domingo as Posa since he sings with, as said before, flawless technique, ringing tones,and an acting ability rarely equaled by other tenors or baritones. Domingo is a force of nature although his age is evident in his voice and demeanor. I personally would rather
hear a tenor as Posa who has great vocal technique and acting ability than a baritonal Posa who has neither. But the ideal is to hear a Verdi baritone as Posa who can win the audience over with his characterization and voice.

Bass Ferruccio Furlanetto is the perfect Philip II. As the Philip of choice throughout the world, Furlanetto sang the role in LA Opera’s 2006 production. His “Ella giammai m’amò” is seasoned and exquisite — beginning with deep introspection, then blooming into agonizing passion as he comes to the realization that he will never win the queen’s heart. Furlanetto inhabits the role. His voice is rich and deep. Every stare and hand gesture, although subtle, adds to the intensity of emotions Furlanetto is able to communicate. Furlanetto is truly a star.

Ramón Vargas’s arias and duets with Elisabeth and Posa support the fact that he should be the star of the opera that bears his character’s name, but other singers have the ability to take center stage.

Soprano Ana María Martínez is no stranger to LA Opera audiences. Her flexibility
enables her to sing numerous roles well, whether lyric or spinto. And finally, Anna
Smirnova’s Princess Eboli enables her to glide through arias like the “Veil Song” and a dynamic “O don fatale.”

Morris Robinson’s Grand Inquisitor and Soloman Howard’s Monk make the lower sounds
prevail. If you love the low voice timbre, this is the opera for you.

Ian Judge’s production has one basic set, with arches moving and rolling in and out on casters, designed by John Gunter. Various hues of light draw attention to the singers, and Tim Goodchild’s gorgeous period costumes add to the vision. Supernumeraries and a grand chorus led by Grant Gershon create a magnificent spectacle in the square when the heretics are condemned by the Inquisition. The scene was spectacular in 2006.

Conductor James Conlon always leads the LA Opera orchestra with bravura. He knows
how to make the orchestra shine with big sound when indicated and how to follow the
singers when desired, without overshadowing or drowning them out.

“Don Carlo” is an opera for stars, and LA Opera’s current production of “Don Carlo” has many.

Conductor: James Conlon
Production: Ian Judge
Stage Director: Louisa Muller
Set Design: John Gunter
Costume Design: Tim Goodchild
Lighting Design: Rick Fisher
Chorus Master: Grant Gershon
Choreographer: Kitty McNamee

Alexander Vinogradov sings Philip from Oct. 4 to 14. Performances continue Thursdays, Oct. 4 and 11, at 7:30 pm and Sundays, Oct. 7 and 14, at 2 pm.

Carol Jean Delmar is the author of “Serenade: A Memoir of Music and Love from Vienna
and Prague to Los Angeles, 1927 to World War II to 2012.” She writes opera and theater reviews for the BH Courier and, and currently lives in Beverlywood.


Ana María Martínez as Elisabeth de Valois, Ferruccio Furlanetto as King Philip II and Plácido Domingo as Rodrigo in LA Opera’s 2018 production of “Don Carlo.” (photo: Cory Weaver)

Posted by: operatheaterink | May 30, 2017

Film Review: ‘The Quarrel,’ May 30, 2017

‘The Quarrel’ Film Remains Pertinent
and Thought-Evoking after Twenty Years.

DAVID BRANDES (Screenplay)
CHAIM GRADE (Original Short Story)
1991/’92 FILM, SEEN ON DVD MAY 24, 2017

By Carol Jean Delmar
Opera Theater Ink

“The Quarrel,” a 1991 film produced with care and sensitivity, is still pertinent today. Available on DVD, it remains a worthwhile vehicle for educational institutions and congregations to utilize for debates on a variety of issues facing the Jewish community.

I was made aware of the film by my neighbor in 2017. After seeing the film’s website, I decided to test my opinions since I have written a book about my parents’ journey to America during the Holocaust. Merely ninety minutes long, the film focuses on two friends (Chaim, a non-religious writer and poet; and Hersh, an Orthodox rabbi) who separate before the Holocaust after disagreeing on the role of God in their lives. Now, many years later in 1948, they meet by chance in a park in Montreal, Canada, or almost by fate, where they reminisce and discuss their present and past lives in Poland, and how being Holocaust survivors has influenced their current views.

The Canadian film is clearly focused for the Jewish community. Even the secular Chaim Kovler is clearly Jewish, simply doesn’t believe that God plays a role in people’s decisions and that they can work and create without religious involvement. Rabbi Hersh Rasseyner believes the opposite.

What makes this film so interesting is that this premise has branches that bring a myriad of topics to light for verbal discourse.

One is morality. The rabbi believes that man is not born noble and good. God and religion are what make man moral, he believes. Chaim, on the other hand, believes that humans are inherently good and must and do help each other.

The two men spend time together in the park, through sun and rain, talking about their roles in the fate of their families, their losses and guilts, and the Holocaust’s toll on their lives. They forgive each other, then stake out their claims.

A low-budget film, the few settings are cinematically artistic and fine; the costuming, appropriate in period and style; and the music and score interspersed with care. The actors — R. H. Thomson (Chaim) and Saul Rubinek (Hersh) — excel at their craft and turn the words into gems. The discourse between the two men is at times as if they are lecturing, but these actors often turn the dialogue into poetry. Therein lies the question as to whether or not the film is for a wide audience or is simply an excellent educational film for the Jewish community. In reality, people of all faiths can probably debate about the answers to the questions brought forth as they pertain to their own religions.

My favorite part is toward the end when the two men are dancing in a most creative fashion. This shows the sensitivity of the film’s makers. Even the spectators’ applause seems fitting, although somewhat jolting in execution. The ensuing story, although valuable but poorly positioned, ruins the moment for me.

The two men leave the park and each other, apparently without talk of reuniting again. The film shows their eternal bond toward each other and their roots in Jewish tradition. Yet it also shows that they have forged different paths, and although bonded for life with love for one another, life’s experiences have made them who they are, and they must continue to journey with their beliefs in tact. Ripe for discussion, I was hoping these men would delight in their reunion and vow to remain close.

A smorgasbord of ideas — one needs to see the film more than once to tune in, listen and digest. Still, not knowing its success-level in 1992, “The Quarrel” seems too focused on these two men often lecturing to each other to be embraced in general release by a wider youthful audience; yet it is far too eloquent and accomplished to be merely an educational film. It is a marvelous film for those who have the interest and want to debate on the topics brought forth. I recommend “The Quarrel” to them, and I congratulate the actors on their fine delivery.

Screenplay: David Brandes
Director: Eli Cohen
Produced by David Brandes, Kim Todd
Associate Producer: Joseph Telushkin
Executive Producers: Peter Sussman, Paul Bronfman, Lindsay Law
Principal Actors: R.H. Thomson, Saul Rubinek
Cinematography: John Berrie
Music: William Goldstein
Editing: Havelock Gradidge
Costumes: Francois Barbeau
Released in Canada, 1991; USA, 1992

DVD available at ( ) and on Amazon.

An American Playhouse Theatrical Films, Atlantis Releasing and Apple & Honey Film Corp. presentation in association with Comweb Productions Inc., The Ontario Film Development Corporation and Super Ecran. An Atlantis Films Limited and Apple & Honey Productions production. DVD: Fox Lorber and Winstar TV & Video.

Illustration: Photo of DVD front taken by Carol Jean Delmar.

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