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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. No opera temple was in existence in the city, which was full of sands, and Golinkin's Palestine Opera had to perform in unsuitable cinema theatres. But opera was on its way and it was here to stay.

Golinkin directed the Palestine Opera for four years. 
In 1940, the composer Marc Lavry and the conductor George Singer established the Palestine Folk Opera. By 1946 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. 
In 1940, the composer Marc Lavry and the conductor George Singer established the Palestine Folk Opera. By 1946 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. And so with its birth, the new state had its own opera company. De Philippe's company performed night after night all over the country. She even managed to lure young opera stars in the making to spend some time in Israel and learn their craft in Tel Aviv. 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. The company folded but Israel could not have afforded life without opera. In 1985 The Council for Arts and Culture initiated a new framework for opera in Israel. The New Israeli Opera was inaugurated as collaboration 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, funded mainly at the time, by the Tel Aviv Yafo Municipality, featured as its first production Dido and Aeneas by Purcell at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv. The new Israeli Opera was enthusiastically supported by the then Mayor of Tel Aviv, Shlomo Lahat, who was the living spirit behind this new opera company, and the director of the Council for Arts and Culture, Avner Shalev.     
In 1986 Gary Bertini was appointed as music adviser of the Israeli Opera, and when Yoav Talmi left his post as music director (in 1988), Bertini was appointed music director of the Israeli Opera. He was succeeded in this role by Asher Fisch. These days the music director of the Israeli Opera is David Stern.

Inaugurated in 1985, The Israeli Opera is today one of the focal points of Israeli culture - a vibrant international company committed to presenting opera as a dramatic theatrical art form.

Constantly expanding its audience base, the Israeli Opera today, led by General Director Hanna Munitz, 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.

In October 2005, the Israeli Opera inaugurated the “Founders’ Corner”, a memorial wall at the Opera House foyer, dedicated to the founders of opera in Israel.

The Israeli Opera is supported by the Ministry of Culture, by the Municipality of Tel Aviv Yafo and by private and public institutions who generously donate to the company.

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