The Israeli Opera (formerly known as the New Israeli Opera) is Israel’s leading opera company. Situated in Tel Aviv, since 1994 its main performance venue has been the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre on Shaul haMelech Street, close to Habima Theatre and the Cinematheque. Singing opera in the original language, complete with English subtitles, the company is not just a leading light in the field of opera but also offers jazz, classical music, and dance performances as part of its annual series.
The history of opera began in the second decade of the 20th century when Palestine was still under the control of the British Mandate and before the State of Israel had been established. Mordechai Golinkin, a Russian-born Jewish conductor decided to found a choir, with the aim of making enough money to set up an Opera company in the not-yet-state. The choir gave performances all over Russia, in order to raise funds, and in 1923, with a lump sum in his pocket, Golinkin set off for the Holy Land.
Since there was no Opera House in Tel Aviv, in which to perform, a rendition of ‘La Traviata’ sung by the Eretz Israel Opera was held in a cinema! It was Golinkin’s dream to establish an Opera House in Jerusalem but, as it happened, Tel Aviv was the city chosen, because more of the performing artists lived there. Between 1923-1927, they performed 17 different operas but then the money ran out.
Fast forward to 1945, when an American soprano, Edis de Phillipe, founded the Israel National Opera. This became Israel’s leading opera company up until 1982 when - once more - funds dwindled. The Ministry of Culture and Education decided they could no longer support the venture and the company closed.
Three years later, in 1985, the Council for Arts and Culture established The New Israeli Opera was born, out of a partnership between the Israel Chamber Orchestra and the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv. The Director of the Cameri, Uri Offer, was offered General Directorship of the Opera and in 1987, they opened with a production of Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell.
Since then, the Israeli Opera has put on numerous productions, including ‘Turandot’, ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ’Falstaff,’ ‘Carmen’, ‘Norma’, and ‘A Love for Three Oranges.’ In 2003, their ‘La Traviata’ production toured in Wiesbaden, and in 2005 ‘L’Elisir D’Amore’ toured with the Deutsche Opera in Berlin.
The Hebrew opera, based on the famous novelist A.B. Yehoshua’s work ‘Journey to the End of the Millennium’ was commissioned in 2008 and performed especially for the opera’s 20th anniversary. Conducted by Musical Director David Stern, it recreated a medieval world with great depth and sensitivity and was well received.
The Tel Aviv Performing Arts Centre has been home to the Israeli Opera since 1994. Designed by the architect Yaakov Rechter, it is part of the larger ‘ Golda’ Centre (all located around Shaul haMelech, Weizmann, and Leonardo da Vinci Streets). Regarded as the major cultural complex of the city, the Cameri Theatre is housed in a wing close by.
In 2010, the Israeli Opera followed in the footsteps of other opera companies that chose to perform outside and held its first-ever production under the stars at the Masada Fortress in the Dead Sea. The site has great historical and emotional significance for Israel (it was the spot where the Romans lay siege, between 73-74 CE and the Jewish inhabitants committed mass suicide, rather than be taken alive).
The benefits of holding these performances outside (in the summer) are many. First of all, being performed under the stars really brings the opera to life, particularly when one is sitting at the top of a fortification that existed from the Roman Times, with a view of the Dead Sea below.
Secondly, using this kind of location means the stage can be larger than in a building, which can really benefit large-scale productions such as Carmen, Aida, or Tosca. Thirdly, hosting an opera festival such as this is of great economic benefit to the surrounding area, encouraging people not just to come for the evening but to take a mini-break, and really enjoy themselves.
Fourthly, it is wonderful - in itself - to enjoy opera in such majestic and natural settings, which is probably why - year after year - the open-air festival is a sell-out! To take a peep at rehearsals in anticipation of the 2015performance of ‘Tosca’, take a look at this link.
This study and performance program is open to young Israeli opera singers who graduated from nationwide music academies and wish to prepare themselves for a career in the field. It offers these graduates a chance to gain experience on the stage - they can perform in regular productions as well as concerts in Israel and around the world. This link gives you a little more insight into their work.
The Israeli Opera is well aware of the positive impact music has on young people and, to this end, now offers two specific programs for children. These include a ‘Children’s Opera Hour’, for those aged 5-10. One-hour performances are given, in full costume (accompanied by commentary and piano) with singers of the Meitar Opera Studio. The Opera House also offers’ Sounds of Magic’ for those aged 2 to 6, introducing basic concepts of music in the form of a particular composer or musical style.
After a year of its doors being shuttered, the Israeli Opera opened its doors again in March 2021. David Sebba, the conductor, and Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra put on a performance of ‘Hebrew Songs”. Drawing on old favorites - singers like Naomi Shemer (''Jerusalem of Gold’), Matti Caspi (“Twilight”), and other Israeli artists - the early Israeli classics were brought alive once more. Strauss, Menotti, and Rossini operas are also on the menu for the following months, in what promises to be a lively and innovative summer. The Israeli Opera is currently directed by Zach Granite, and boasts the Israeli Symphony Orchestra Rishon le Zion as its resident Orchestra, conducted by Dan Ettinger.