The New Israel Opera and the Israel Philharmonic have opened their new season with the same piece of music - Verdi's famous La Traviata ("The fallen woman"), one of the composer's most popular and moving operas. The IPO's performances have only recently ended, and now it's time for the NIO to show what it's got. However, comparing the two isn't really fair: unlike the IPO's recent concert version, the NIO will present La Traviata in a full-fledged performance: stage, set and all. The current production prides itself on its director Franco Zeffirelli, who's back in Israel for the second year in a row. Famed as much for his beautiful films (including the groundbreaking 1968 version of Romeo and Juliette) as for his operas (the extravagantly detailed set of last year's Pagliacci won't soon be forgotten), this 82-year-old master is an old friend of the NIO. Zeffirelli says La Traviata is one of his personal favorites, and he has a long history with it. He first directed the opera in 1958, with the soloist none other than the legendary Maria Callas. The opera's plot revolves around the tragic story of Violetta, a beautiful courtesan in nineteenth century Paris. Already suffering from the early stages of tuberculosis, she meets the young Alfredo, who is enchanted by her charm and beauty. The two fall in love, and Violetta forsakes her former life and moves with him to the country. As things start going well for him, Alfredo learns that Violetta has been selling her possessions to help pay their expenses; he then goes to Paris to recover them. This is when Giorgio Germont, Alfredo's father, arrives to persuade Violetta that she must abandon Alfredo, as their liaison has jeopardized his daughter's forthcoming marriage. The love-stricken and shamed Violetta agrees but has no time to give Alfredo a farewell letter. When she meets him later at a ball, she has to lie and pretend she's in love with someone else. The two lovers finally unite after a dramatic series of ups and downs, but it is too late. Violetta dies in Alfredo's arms. The New Israeli Opera promises a colorful and lavish production, with dozens of singers and extras. One of the production's highlights is a ballet company from Spain, which will enliven the exciting ballroom scenes. For a refresher on the music, tune in this Saturday night at 8 to a Voice of Israel broadcast of a recording of La Traviata featuring Luciano Pavarotti and conducted by James Levine.