Opera in Israel – a Brief History
The story and history of opera in Israel could have become the plot of one of the most exciting operas ever written. It is a story about pioneers who relentlessly fought to maintain their artistic dreams in a nation yet to be born. It is a story of struggle and love, of faith and despair, a story that eventually, 93 years later, puts Israel very proudly on the international opera map.
It is a story that began in 1917 in Moscow, where Mordechai Golinkin wrote his thesis The Vision of the Hebrew Art Temple of Opera Work in Palestine. Six years later Golinkin arrived in Palestine to make his dream come true. Opera life in the pre-statehood Israel began in Tel Aviv on July 28, 1923 with Verdi's La traviata. As no opera house was in existence in the city, which was all desert, Golinkin's Palestine Opera had to perform in movie theatres.
Golinkin directed the Palestine Opera for four years, and in 1940, the composer Marc Lavry and the conductor George Singer established the Palestine Folk Opera. By 1945 sixteen productions had been staged, among them the first opera in Hebrew, Dan the Guard by Lavry, the poet Shin Shalom and writer Max Brod.
A major change came on November 13, 1945 when American soprano Edis de Philippe landed in Israel and within a short time created the Israel National Opera. De Philippe's company performed night after night all over the country. The company was so successful, that it attracted young and rising international opera stars to spend some time in Israel.
One Spanish tenor spent three years here in the early 1960s. It was in Tel Aviv that he learned the basic tenor repertoire before embarking on an international career. His name is Placido Domingo.
In 1982 the Ministry of Culture and Education decided to cease its funding of the Israel National Opera, but Israeli society quickly felt the void. In 1985, The Council for Arts and Culture created The New Israeli Opera by brokering a partnership between the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv and the Israel Chamber Orchestra. Uri Offer, the then general director of the Cameri Theatre, was appointed general director of the New Israeli Opera, a post he held for a decade, and Yoav Talmi, who was the music director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, was appointed music director of the New Israeli Opera. The New Israeli Opera featured as its first production Dido and Aeneas by Purcell at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv.
The Israeli Opera today, led by General Director Hanna Munitz, is constantly expanding its base of fans. It currently enjoys the support of over 18,000 subscribers and mounts an average of eight productions each season. Israeli Opera productions feature leading opera artists from all over the world side by side with Israeli opera artists. These days the Israeli Opera collaborates regularly with leading opera houses all over the world and enjoys rave critical reviews in the international opera press for its performances on home turf and abroad. All Israeli Opera productions are sung in the original language with Hebrew and English surtitles and presented at the state-of-the-art Opera House at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center, opened in 1994. In recent years the Israeli Opera also presents dance, classical music, jazz and children music series at the Opera House.