Mauritzia is adored by Chutner, who tirelessly attends her and woos her despite her indifference. The only man she welcomes into her bed is her lover Jorge. When she and her companion Poomptz swap homes for a month with Madagaskar and her companion Hotchks, Madagaskar’s own nuisance suitor, Loxner, comes along. Loxner and Chutner become rivals for what little attention Madagaskar is willing to provide. Adopting disguises, the two suitors do everything in their power to win Madagaskar’s heart, with no success. When Mauritzia and Madagaskar return to their own homes at the end of the month, Chutner disguises himself as Jorge, confusing Mauritzia and giving him a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…
The Wondrous Woman Within is a comic opera in two acts with a libretto adapted from the play of the same name by Hanoch Levin. The piece is approximately 100 minutes long and is scored for 18 instrumentalists, four singers and one actor. Hanoch Levin’s plays are exponents of the Theatre of the Absurd movement, with touches of Epic Theatre, and were influenced by Brecht, Ionesco and Beckett. The Wondrous Woman Within pays tribute to the theatrical origins of the text by adapting various theatrical devices into the musical material, such as the alienation effect, amplification of Levin’s own use of music in his plays and integration of instrumentalists as diegetic elements in the performance.
Stylistically, the music darts between familiar and avant-garde, associating distinct styles of music with specific characters and concepts. The orchestra is not large, but each instrument is stretched to the limits of its ability, by use of both virtuosic common practice technique and extended techniques.
The play works brilliantly as an opera libretto because it trades on some familiar operatic plot elements. It feels a lot like Così fan tutte in that there are suitors in disguise and mistaken identities, but it veers off in a much more surreal and ridiculous direction. Two men try to woo the same woman, but inadvertently craft for themselves the exact same fake identity. Disguises that definitely should not work prove inexplicably successful. Sometimes the characters themselves can’t keep these things straight in their heads. It is by turns bawdy, sexy, poignant and distressing.
Hanoch Levin was, during his life, a highly controversial figure, but he has since come to be regarded as Israel’s most prominent and celebrated playwright. While some of his plays have been translated into English, French, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Hungarian, Yiddish and Slovenian, among others, he remains largely unknown outside of the Hebrew speaking world. In fact, The Wondrous Woman Within, the Hanoch Levin play I have adapted into an opera libretto, has thus far only been translated into Russian. This is one of the reasons I am so excited to have an English performing translation of my opera – I have the opportunity to introduce this hilarious and witty play to a larger audience.
Levin’s brilliance made him an obvious choice as I sought a subject for my opera when I began working on it in 2008, but this specific play leapt out at me as one that could be enjoyed and appreciated outside the boundaries of Israeli culture. The farce centers on the universally understood subjects of sexuality and the social power struggle. The story is completely unbound from time, place and culture: it could take place anywhere and at anytime, giving enormous flexibility to directors and designers.
…Riotously funny… The creator of this memorable creature was Osnat Netzer, a Boston-based Israeli composer, who drew on the satirical plays of Hanoch Levin for ‘The Wondrous Woman Within,’ about an unwilling femme fatale and her suitors. Kathryn Guthrie, a soprano, and Jesse Blumberg, a baritone, fearlessly tore into the operatic equivalent of Meg Ryan’s orgasm scene in ‘When Harry Met Sally,’ aided by a witty score that drew on an accordion, a kitchen wok and lewd brass solos.
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim The New York Times
…just because a collaboration has been mentored and workshopped doesn’t mean it is great. This fall, I heard a lot of new pieces in various stages of development, ranging from brief concert scenes to fully staged operas. A handful captured my imagination. I wouldn’t mind hearing more of Osnat Netzer’s wacky, bawdy ‘The Wondrous Woman Within’ (excerpted at New York City Opera’s VOX concert) or Tarik O’Regan’s moody, Brittenesque ‘Heart of Darkness’ … Others should probably stay on the drawing board.
Heidi Waleson The Wall Street Journal
Osnat Netzer’s music, like the Hanoch Levin text, exposes the bare bones of operatic tissue, as if removing the veil of operatic pretense, in order to create “anti opera”. Netzer’s style is eclectic, and flows from parody of the avant-garde, to distorted Latin rhythms, schmaltzy melodrama and even some Hasidic music. All of this quilt-work music – including grand arias, duets and even an impressive trio – sounds as if it may fall apart at any moment. Perhaps only thus can one set to music heart attacks and a love duet that starts with the question “How do you like to have your eggs for breakfast? Hard-boiled, Maybe scrambled? Or fried?”
Matan Oren Israel Hayom (2015)
Composer Osnat Netzer succeeded in sonically distilling the Levinian essence into a solid mass of sentimentality and wretchedness with music that is not necessarily easy to listen to or perform, but is challenging and fascinating, excelling in original timbres and attractive textures, as well as corresponding well with traditional operatic forms, from lyrical romantic arias to Sprechstimme. Among the notable moments: a virtuosic orgasm aria for soprano (Yael Levita in sparkling, effortless singing), and a heart breaking lament for mezzo-soprano at the end of Act I (Noa Frenkel, who was magnetic and wonderful as always). Alongside the excellent women starred Guy Pelc and Roi Sarouk, who gave commanding performances that were at the same time both funny and heartbreaking.
Amir Kidron Music4Awhile (2015)