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The Israeli Opera, based at the Tel Aviv Centre for Performing Arts, is one of the country's leading artistic institutions and one of the world's foremost opera companies. The Israeli Opera has maintained the highest international operatic standards, while also reaching out to Israelis of all ages and socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.
With nearly 20,000 subscribers, the Israeli Opera additionally attracts thousands of tourists each year to eight new annual productions, which in the 2011/12 season includes classics such as Puccini's Madame Butterfly and Verdi's Rigoletto and contemporary Israeli Hebrew operas such as Child's Dream by Hanoch Levin and Gil Shohat.
All operas are performed in their original language (with Hebrew and English subtitles) and in-house musical backing is from the Israel Symphony Orchestra of Rishon Lezion.
Since 2008, the Israeli Opera's music director has been New York born David Stern (son of violinist Isaac Stern). "It is an honour being music director of one of the world's respected and well-regarded opera houses and working with the coming generation of Israeli singers," he says, "and it's a real pleasure to enhance my professional connection with the world of Israeli culture".
General director Hanna Munitz stresses the Israeli Opera's outreach. "We host some 250 schoolchildren at almost every performance," she says. "The interaction with schools also works through our outreach and educational programmes. Every year we have a community opera project in which our music staff and singers go into the community and work with local people, amateur choruses and players, often people who have had no background in music."
Workshops are offered during the course of the year, both for young talent and for people who are simply interested in opera.
The Israeli Opera also regularly stages one-hour shows for children at the Tel Aviv Centre for Performing Arts, which are well worth a visit for tourists looking to entertain the family. The current season includes productions of Hansel & Gretel, The Magic Flute, The Marriage of Figaro and Cinderella.
The Israeli Opera was conceived in Moscow in 1917, when a young student named Mordechai Golinkin wrote a thesis grandly entitled The Vision of the Hebrew Art Temple of Opera Work in Palestine. In 1923, he arrived in Palestine and set about transforming his vision into reality and within a few months Verdi's La Traviata was performed in a local cinema by the Palestine Opera.
Golinkin's Palestine Opera was superseded in 1940 by the Palestine Folk Opera, which was founded by composer Marc Lavry and conductor George Singer. The Israel National Opera was formed in 1948, performing in the old opera house on Tel Aviv seafront, at the junction of Allenby Road.
In the early 1960s, a young Spanish tenor called Placido Domingo spent his first three years as a professional opera singer in Tel Aviv with the Israel National Opera. He retains a soft spot for Israel and since 2008 has served as honorary musical advisor to the Israeli Opera.
The Israel National Opera fell on hard times and closed in 1982 after government funding was withdrawn. But Israeli society loved its opera, and following public pressure the New Israeli Opera (the "new" was subsequently dropped) was founded in 1985, under its current general director Hanna Munitz.
In 1994, the Israeli Opera moved into its current home, the impressive state-of-the-art opera house in the Tel Aviv Centre for Performing Arts in Shaul Hamelekh Boulevard.
However, two of the biggest highlights on the Israeli Opera's annual calendar are performed in the open air outside of the centre. Opera in the Park is a free performance each summer in HaYarkon Park, usually attended by an audience of 100,000. The Israeli Opera Festival each June is a stunning series of performances on the top of Masada overlooking the Dead Sea. Last summer, Verdi's Aida was a spectacular success and tickets are already on sale for performances of Bizet's Carmen on June 7, 9, and 10, 2012 with music by the UK's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
To book or inquire about Israeli Opera productions, see www.israel-opera.co.il or phone 00 972 3 6927777