La Scala, one of the world's leading opera companies, is coming to Tel Aviv to present its larger than life version of Verdi's Aida, staged by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by La Scala's chief conductor, Daniel Barenboim. Barenboim will also conduct Verdi's Requiem in a special open-air concert at Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv. "It took about four years to bring this project to realization," said the artistic administrator of the Israeli Opera, Michael Ajzenstadt. "Ambassadors from both sides, as well as the head of the Italian Culture Institute in Tel Aviv - Simonetta della Seta - contributed to it a lot." For several reasons, the theater, which only rarely crosses the Italian border, agreed to undertake this tour: "Partly because of special relationship between the two cities, and partly because of the fact that La Scala's chief conductor is Israeli," explained Ajzenstadt. He added that the project was not only expensive, but also extremely challenging in other ways. "This is a very demanding production, and in addition to 400 visiting artists, about 150 Israelis will participate in the show just to make it go smoothly." La Scala never travels alone, Ajzenstadt pointed out; it always takes its friends along - those who are not involved in the production. This time, about 900 guests will land in Tel Aviv, in addition to 400 artists. "Recently, with the help of Prof. Amira Meir, the wife of the Israeli ambassador in Italy, we have inaugurated an Association of Friends of the Israeli Opera in Rome, which will arrive in Tel Aviv, as well as our friends from London and the US." Young Israeli maestro Omer Wellber will conduct three of the six performances of Aida. "This was not planned," said Ajzenstadt, "but this is what happened. This year, Omer Wellber started working with Barenboim as his assistant in a very intensive way. There is a huge difference between being an assistant and conducting La Scala productions. "Wellber recently conducted La Gioconda in Padua to great acclaim, and he just received a special prize in Italy as a young and promising conductor for this year. This success has opened many doors for Omer, and since it was obvious that Barenboim would not conduct all the performances of Aida in Tel Aviv, both the Italians and Barenboim himself were happy that it would be Wellber who would conduct the rest of the shows. He runs all the rehearsals and preparations of Aida in Milan anyway." Ajzenstadt added: "We hosted many companies in the past, but the current combination of La Scala, Zeffirelli, Barenboim, Aida and Requiem makes the event special. The Italians see this tour as almost an official visit on the state level, with at least one minister and mayor of Milan among the guests. President Shimon Peres will also be present on the opening night. "Meanwhile, we in the Israeli Opera did not get the proportions of the event - we just hear a lot of Italian instead of Russian in our building; but very soon, when the entire team arrives, we will turn into a branch of La Scala for 10 days - and it is really wonderful."