Aria there yet?

Israeli Opera reopens with classics for in-house audiences

After a year of shuttered doors, New Israeli Opera relaunches season with concerts of opera and Israeli songs

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

The New Israeli Opera will open its doors again on Thursday night, but don’t expect a grand opera just yet.

For now, the Tel Aviv opera house is starting up with some lighter fare, beginning with conductor David Sebba’s arrangement of “Hebrew Songs,” performed by four opera singers with the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra.

With songs by Natan Alterman, Matti Caspi, Naomi Shemer, Ehud Manor and other early Israeli music, the performance brings favorite Israeli classics alive onstage.

The two performances of “Hebrew Songs” on Thursday and Friday, March 11 and 12, will be followed by “The Sopranos,” another Sebba arrangement of opera highlights, with opera singers performing popular arias, duets and ensembles from “The Magic Flute,” “La traviata,” “La forza del destino,” “Les Contes d’Hoffmann,” “Don Giovanni,” and “Le nozze di Figaro,” conducted by Sebba and accompanied by The Israel Symphony Orchestra, Rishon Lezion.

New Israeli Opera singers, from left, Goni Knaani, Daniela Skorka, Tal Ganor and Anat Czarny will appear in concert of Israeli classics when opera house reopens on March 11, 2021 (Courtesy New Israeli Opera)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, said Sebba.

“We’ve been rehearsing like crazy,” said Sebba. “It’ll be sad to see just 300 people sitting in an auditorium of 600 seats, but I’ll take it for now.”

Sebba, a conductor and  opera singer, remarked that putting together a full opera production post-lockdown is a major undertaking, and while the Israeli Opera worked on productions in between lockdowns, the incessant closures pushed them toward other projects, including online performances and creating a video-on-demand, web-based archive of Israeli Opera recordings.

Now, however, Sebba is eagerly anticipating performing with an audience, an experience that offers “the kind of magic that’s hard to explain,” he said. “When you haven’t done it in a year, you get nervous, because you’ve been awaiting this moment when it all comes together, with this genuine authentic excitement.”

Despite everything, it’s been a busy year for Sebba as he continued working, albeit online. He explained opera in Zoom lessons, conducted virtual concerts and prepared for the staging of his chamber opera, “Mothers,” based on the leading women in the Bible, with actors from the Gesher Theater.

While all the virtual and recorded performances offered the opportunity to continue performing, there’s nothing quite like conducting with an audience.

“I need to look people in the eyes and get a feel if they want one more song, or not, if I need to say more, or close my mouth,” said Sebba. “You don’t have that with a screen.”

“The hardest thing when you’re performing online is the end of a song, and there’s a bang and there’s silence,” he said. “It’s like falling into a fog. The tsunami of applause is like a wall that you can lean against.”

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