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Israeli Enthusiastic About Leading Frankfurt Opera

January 20, 1988

FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ Israeli conductor Gary Bertini had hardly settled down into his new post as the Frankfurt Opera’s general director when an arsonist’s fire gutted the building.

″I was discouraged and very frustrated. ... But I’ve been raised as a fighter,″ the 58-year-old Bertini said in a recent interview.

The Russian-born conductor came to Frankfurt in September. On Nov. 12, an East German refugee set the fire for reasons unrelated to Bertini or the opera.

Bertini put on Mozart’s ″Cosi fan tutte″ in a Frankfurt concert hall only two days after the blaze. The performance was acclaimed by critics, and public support ran high for the opera company’s fighting spirit.

Coming to Frankfurt was an unexpected turn in his career. As an Israeli Jew, Bertini admits to having long had an ″aversion″ toward West Germany because of the country’s Nazi past.

″I was invited to Germany to conduct in the 1960s, and had contract offers, but I never accepted,″ he said. ″It took me 26 years until I accepted for the first time an engagement in Germany.″

In 1971, 26 years after World War II, Bertini conducted the premiere of Israeli composer Josef Tal’s opera ″Ashmedai″ in Hamburg.

″It’s not a conscious process, or an intellectual one,″ Bertini said, describing his change of attitude. ″The feelings were less strong in me, and I felt I could connect and communicate with people here, especially with the new generation.″

The complete artistic potential of the position as general director made him decide on Frankfurt, Bertini said.

″The general director decides which operas are being played, when, how and with whom. As a musical conductor, you’re dependent on so many elements - direction, acting, stage, singers - which are not in your hand at all,″ he said.

Bertini has conducted the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Milan’s La Scala orchestra and other prominent groups around the world, including orchestras in New York, Philadelphia, Tokyo, Paris and Vienna. He also was a musical adviser to the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in 1981-84.

Such a broad range of experience impressed Frankfurt’s cultural administrators.

″The city orchestra, the Society for Opera and Museum Concerts, and several top critics voted unanimously for Bertini,″ Frankfurt cultural director Hilmar Hoffmann said.

Bertini, who has led the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1983, was already well known in West Germany before the opera appointment.

Bertini studied conducting, musicology, and composition in Paris and Milan as well as Tel Aviv, and brought the knowledge he gained there back home.

He founded Tel Aviv’s Rinat Chamber Choir in 1956 and the Israel Chamber Orchestra nine years later. He was leading conducto of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra from 1978 to 1986.

Bertini has frequently introduced the works of Israeli composers to foreign audiences, and since 1975 has been a professor of musicology at Tel Aviv University.

So far, openness and versatility have marked Bertini’s leadership in Frankfurt. This season’s selection ranges from traditional operas such as Puccini’s ″La Boheme″ to the premiere of the avant-garde ″Europeras 1 and 2″ by American composer John Cage.

″I don’t intend to be labeled,″ Bertini said. ″A city opera has a responsibility to offer all different sectors of the public something they like. But it must be music I believe in.″

Bertini was born in a village in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic and emigrated with his family to Israel, then Palestine, as a child.

He is married and has two grown daughters living in Israel.

Bertini noted with regret that audience numbers have declined since the fire.

″There’s still a lack of clarity in people’s minds,″ Bertini said. ″They see the fire brigade and the ashes, and they don’t trust the situation. And people are used to seeing opera in a certain place.″

The fire caused damages estimated at $76.4 million and caused a debate among opera fans and city supervisors over where to house the opera. The city finally decided to use the theater company’s facilities while restorations are being made over the next two to three years.

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