How do you make Jaffa, the ancient Mediterranean port city and present-day gritty suburb of Tel Aviv, look like Vienna in the winter of 1791? Answer: make a book video of a historical novel set in Mozart’s time, and let the lighting do the rest.
Last week I headed down to Jaffa for a second day of filming for the video promo to my forthcoming novel MOZART’S LAST ARIA. (The first day was spent in my apartment, which we converted to look somewhat Mozartian, again by a trick of the lighting.) The main reason for going to Jaffa was that our “Nannerl Mozart,” my novel’s main character and the sister of Mozart, was going to be Dr. Orit Wolf, an acclaimed Israeli concert pianist who’s a friend of mine. Orit lives with her family in Jaffa, which has been very mildly gentrified in the last decade, though it’s mainly still a slum for poor Jewish and Arab Israelis.
We dropped off our gear – costumes and camera equipment – with Orit’s husband Roger, a Norwegian journalist and an old pal. Then we hit the streets, me, my videographer David Blumenfeld, and Matthew Kalman, journalist, documentarian and, in this case, actor.
As we sweated along Yeffet Street toward the old alleys of Jaffa, we wondered how we would make the 30-degree heat of an Israeli winter look like Vienna. Then we passed an old door to a Catholic institution with a large cross on it. Eureka. All we had to do was look for vaguely sinister religious imagery, and we could let the editing and the viewer’s (no doubt tormented) imagination supply the heightened pulse.
In the old church atop the old Jaffa port, filming mysterious icons, until the nice Franciscan closed the place for his siesta. Outside we waited with camera and microphone trained for the bells in the churchtower to toll midday. They didn’t. But maybe we can leave that to the editing too.
Back at Orit’s place, she dressed up as Nannerl. Not only did she look the part, but she displayed the kind of virtuosic performance that amateur musicians like me can only dream of. I realized that it’s very rare for me to be inside a smallish room with a great musician while they perform. I’ve seen Orit on stage many times and she’s fabulous. But to be in a room while she plays…Well, if you want to hear the Fantasia Mozart was writing when he died as you’ve never heard it before, you’ll have to look at the video when it’s done. Orit’s really something special.
I made her do some acting too, for which she was very game. Matthew also dressed up in a silver frock coat and spoke in mysterious tones about conspiracy, the Emperor and the secrets of Mozart’s death. Any excuse for these former English public schoolboys to put on a white wig and silk stockings.
When I did my lines – a threatening moment in which I had to grab the chin of “Nannerl” a little roughly – I think I was pretty good. At least, Orit seemed rather scared, which is the effect I was after. “You’ve never seen this side of me, have you?” I said.
Soon after that, she suggested we leave.
Well, it was of course time to move on to another friend’s place. My friend’s daughter Shira is an opera student and offered to sing to a very dramatic aria from “La Clemenza di Tito.” I think it’ll be an astonishing counterpoint to the piano piece. We made the family’s preparations for their dinner guest a little more fraught than they needed to be, but I expect it was all a good talking point for the soiree.
In between all this, David, Matthew and I managed to find time for a Reuben sandwich at the appropriately named “Ruben” on Yirmiyahu Street in north Tel Aviv. The street is a strip of terrific new restaurants and cafés, mixed with rundown old electrical supply stores. It’s very hip and a remarkable contrast with the ugly barrenness of Jerusalem’s Yirmiyahu Street, home to the former chicken factory which now houses The Jerusalem Post and a main route into the ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of the city.
The Ruben sandwich, by the way, was the best I’ve ever tasted. And the meat was kosher, too. See, just like Vienna in 1791.