The summer sounds of opera

Tel Aviv’s International Summer Opera Program features some of the country’s top vocalists.

July 17, 2019 20:49
4 minute read.
The summer sounds of opera

DAN ETTINGER guides a student of opera at a master class.. (photo credit: MAXIM REIDER)

Thrilling open master classes, fiery concerts, captivating mini-opera productions – welcome to the annual International Summer Opera Program, one of a very few places where classical-music aficionados can breathe a sigh of relief and culture while other local music institutions enjoy a well-deserved vacation.

The Israel Vocal Arts Institute is the organization behind the opera program. It was founded in 1987 by former Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat, and Joan Dornemann of the Metropolitan Opera New York, with a support of a group of opera fans. Since then, close to 15,000 students from Israel and abroad have profited from the summer program’s activities. This year, the course runs at Tel Aviv Conservatory of Music until July 27. Its faculty features such experienced singers as Kevin Murphy, Dan Ettinger, Chen Reiss and Michael Schade, among others. The opera program includes Handel’s Acis and Galatea, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and two of Puccini’s one-act pieces, Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi, as well as a variety of other concerts.

An internationally acclaimed Israeli opera and symphony conductor, Ettinger returns to the summer course as a teacher. “I just pay off my debt to the course by passing to the young generation the knowledge which I received here years ago,” says Ettinger, who was among the first Israeli opera singers to attend the course.

How did it feel when Dornemann and her team of big stars were first landing in the then-small world of Tel Aviv opera?
“This was not about big and small,” Ettinger replied. “We are talking about the pre-Internet era. We suddenly met people whom we previously knew only from recordings and videos. Before that, they were simply inaccessible. They came and invested a lot of effort in teaching. For our generation – I am speaking about such singers as Anat Efrati, Hadar Halevy and others – this became the major source of knowledge and inspiration.

Ettinger, who has started his music career as a pianist and tenor singer, initially came to the workshop as an accompanist. “I was too young to join the program as a vocalist, but occasionally I joined it both as a pianist and a beginner singer. It was like jumping in a very deep water. Granted, we were still learning, but on the highest professional level possible. Just imagine young university graduates who suddenly need to deal with many aspects of their future profession and to decide whether it suits them or not.”

Ettinger confides that it was during the workshop when he realized that this was what he wanted to do. “I attended the workshop for 10 years, and although after years of my career as an opera singer I turned to be a conductor, I had learned here many things which I still use in my current work.”

Speaking about the drastic changes brought by the Internet, Ettinger recalled that in the past, to find a score of an aria, one needed to go to the library. “Now, by hitting a key, you get it straight to your computer.” He finds this “lightness of accessibility is almost unbearable, because it has also influenced the very perception of learning.”

“In the past, the opera workshop was a special event, which took place once in a year. The opportunity to meet outstanding musicians in our province made it unique. Nowadays, the Internet provides you with a lot of information. So many vocalists who dream to become big stars already in the young age tend to think that they already know everything, and there is not much difference between live communication with a tutor in a music school or in a framework of a workshop and YouTube solfeggio lessons. The difference is similar to that between seeing your family physician and showing him your throat online with a special camera.”

Some argue that open master classes are nothing but a show for the audience. “Well, not especially,” said Ettinger, who is as demanding to his students as he is to the participants of real opera productions.

“Granted, I always take in consideration the students’ professional level, but I approach them with the same tools which I apply to their more experienced colleagues. Because this is how they acquire the important knowledge of dealing with stage and the audience. At the moment they come up onstage, I see them as performing artists. This is a cruel profession, and the audience doesn’t care how many years you have studied, who your teachers were and how do you feel.”

Strict as he probably sounds, the charismatic Ettinger is an incredibly caring tutor. With a few words or a smile he releases his students from their understandable tensions. But that is not all, far from that. With seeming ease he solves the young vocalists’ professional problems, and at the end of an open lesson their emotion-filled voices flow freely. For a layman, it looks like magic. What is his secret?

“The teacher’s music talent and his or her experience,” Ettinger replied. “Kilometrage [the distance traveled]. To be able to put your student’s problem in one word, you need years of learning and stage experience behind you.”

For more information or reservations, go to or call 077-201-9573.

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