In this post-modern, virtual, high-density, high-speed, anything-goes 3D global
village of ours, where our offspring are bombarded with commercials, movies and
information of all types and degrees of subtlety, we adults sometimes tend to
forget that our children are, well, just children.
That is a view to
which Dudi Zeba wholeheartedly subscribes , and he is putting his money, and
artistic talents, firmly where his mouth is as a driving force behind the
Israeli Opera’s forthcoming Opera for all the Family summer
Besides earning his keep as a composer and conductor, Zeba is
also a father, and he has evidently put his parental experiences to good use in
his daytime job, too. While embracing the idea that children should be provided
with appropriate entertainment, Zeba also believes there is no need to serve the
younger generation with bland, patently nonchallenging sterilized material
“I have two kids – one nine and the other 11 – and I have been
going to kids’ shows for years now,” he says.
“There have been many times
when I have left a show I have been to with my kids feeling embarrassed about
the garbage I saw on the stage.
“There’s absolutely no reason to dumb
down when you’re putting on a production for kids.”
As far as Zeba is
concerned, it is very much a matter of the GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out)
“If you feed children hamburgers and ice cream instead of
nutritional food, everyone suffers the consequences.
We’ve got to offer
children a healthier cultural diet, too.”
The Opera for all the Family
season, taking place at the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv, the Jerusalem Theater and
other locations throughout the country, features Mozart’s The Magic Flute
, but the season’s pièce de résistance is a new opera based
on Alice in Wonderland
, the music and libretto written by Zeba.
understandably excited about the world premiere of his new work.
is tailor-made for children, and for adults. There are all those
wonderful bizarre characters and that great story, and all that imagery and
You can’t really go wrong if you feed off the original story. It
is a story just begging to be produced, on stage, for children.”
that in mind, Zeba is less enthusiastic about the recent Johnny Depp-led film
rendition of the original Lewis Carroll tale.
“They had the Mad Hatter
and Cheshire Cat as pensioners and didn’t show respect for the original book,”
he declares. “I am a great admirer of Johnny Depp’s work, but this was not to my
liking at all.”
Much of the reasoning behind the three-pronged Opera for
all the Family season is to address what Zeba feels has been a hitherto
neglected cultural consumer hinterland.
“We are offering children’s
subscriptions, instead of kids just tagging along with their parents, or not
going to opera at all. We want to expose kids to the genre’s incredible
That means offering the aforesaid children-oriented material in
a fully professional format.
“We haven’t stinted on anything in the
We have used the best consumer designers and scenery
makers around. The music will be performed to the highest standards, and we have
top-quality directors on board.”
The verbal presentation will also adhere
to that concept.
“There is absolutely no need to speak to children in
monosyllabic words. That’s talking down to them,” Zeba continues. “Yes, there
may be some words they’ll miss, but they will understand the context and the
next time they hear the same words, in a different context, they will understand
There may also be some subtleties that will fly over the kids’
“The children won’t get absolutely all the meanings and inferences
in the operas, and I can visualize parents nodding to each other in
understanding when they sit in the audience on either side of their child. But
that’s okay, too.
“There’s a great production of Utz Li Gutz Li
on at the
Cameri Theater right now. They have good texts and music, and the Hebrew is
quite difficult in parts – there are no compromises there – and it is a hit with
That’s the sort of standard we are aiming for.”
for the new opera had been bubbling under the surface for quite some time before
it took tangible form, Zeba says.
“I had been pondering the idea of
writing an opera specifically for children, but I wasn’t quite sure how to go
about it, and what the storyline should be. One day, I arrived at the Opera
House [in Tel Aviv] and told [the general director] Hannah Munitz that I wanted
to do a children’s opera. She simply said: ‘OK, do something on Alice in
.’ That was the ideal choice, and all this would definitely not have
happened without her idea.” Fittingly, Zeba has put a lot of drawing-board
effort into preparing the performances of the opera, which take place in Tel
Aviv between August 12 and 18, and in Jerusalem on August 22.
“I read the
book many times, and I saw lots of versions based on it. It is important to
realize that the Lewis Carroll book was written for people of all ages, not just
children. There are lots of double and triple meanings in there, parodies on
songs of the time [the mid-19th century], and characters whom Carroll knew
Naturally, not all of that can be faithfully portrayed in
the new opera.
“There are some things you simply cannot transpose from
one culture to another,” Zeba continues, “but I tried to relate to almost all
the aspects, and added references to different ways in which language is used,
from Shakespeare to Bialik. There are also plenty of insights in the story which
the parents will probably understand; the children may get some.
we’re not looking to force-feed the kids pearls of wisdom,” Zeba adds. “They
will get everything over time. I’m sure of that.”
Despite his decidedly
non-coercive take, Zeba says that putting on a children’s opera also means
getting some kind of educational message across, subtle or otherwise.
says he has learned to be less delicate in his own approach.
argued with a director about performing Hansel and Gretl
for kids – the kids
have no food, then there’s a child-eating witch; then they push her into an
oven. It’s terrible.
“But the director said that every child has
nightmares, and if you take these and, instead of repressing them, put them on
the stage and say it’s OK to dream about those terrible things, the children see
the people on stage are all actors, and that everything is OK in the
“That’s a sort of educational value, a sort of therapy. It’s also
important to show kids that not everything in life is serious, that it’s OK to
go right and call it left, and it’s fine to break molds and be different.”