To launch its 25th anniversary season, the Israel Opera (IO) presents The Child Dreams, a new opera by prolific composer Gil Shohat, directed by Omri Nitzan and adapted by Shohat and Nitzan from the play by Hanoch Levin (1943-99). The conductor is new IO music director, David Stern. Austrian designer/artist Gottfried Helnwein has created the set and costumes and Avi Yona (Bambi) Bueno the lighting. This is a superstar production all the way as befits an adaptation to opera of a seminal play by on who is arguably Israel's greatest playwright. The theatrical version of The Child Dreams premiered at Habima in 1993, directed by Levin. The opera - and not a word of the text has been changed - follows the play, which, on the surface, deals with the fortunes of a group of refugees who attempts to find shelter after being driven from their homes. It is the Child (Hila Baggio), wrested from peace and innocence, hounded inexorably towards death, who drives the narrative. For parents, for us all, the death of a child represents an ultimate awfulness. But Levin doesn't do surface; The Child Dreams is universal; it is at once a searing indictment of man's ghastly inhumanity to man and an anthem to mercy, even hope. SHOHAT HAS worked, one and off, for 10 years on the score. He received the go ahead from Levin himself, just before the playwright's death, and says, "Hanoch paved the way; set the limits, and we all march in his light." For designer Helnwein, receiving the text of Levin's play was "an epiphany," because "when I read the play… I felt that I was looking at my [own] work." Much of this work concerns the images of children that society would rather not see. For IO general manager Hannah Munitz, this is a milestone production. "Except for the designer, the choreographer and the conductor, everybody connected with this project is Israeli; a true achievement," she says happily, remarking, "what a long way we've come that we can muster such a long list of Israeli singers." And it's true. When the IO debuted in 1984, and for years after that, there wasn't an Israeli principal in sight. The Child Dreams has an all-Israeli cast, including soprano Larissa Tetuev, mezzo Bracha Kol, tenor Guy Mannheim, baritone Noah Broger and bass Vladimir Braun. Veteran Levin actor Rami Baruch plays the non-singing role of The Bleeding Man. The Child Dreams opens at the Israel Opera in Tel Aviv for only five performances starting January 18.

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