A workshop in progress

Known as the ‘best show in town,’ the International Opera Summer Program provides audiences with a rare opportunity to see stars in the making.

Opera 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Opera 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The International Opera Summer Program in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, run by the International Vocal Arts Institute, takes place between July 4-30 at Jaffa Music Center for the 25th time now. The program, initiated and directed by fiery Joan Dornemann of the Metropolitan Opera, attracts young singers from all over the world, as well as Israeli opera aficionados, who attend master classes, concerts and opera productions. Together, they experience the joys of music making.
“Joan Dornemann’s program is as much about support for entering professionals as it is about identifying new talent and developing knowledge of the vocal arts,” wrote the New York Times in 2003.
“The idea of the workshop is to bring together young vocalists on the brink of their career with leading opera professionals, actively working in the opera world today. They share with the students their practical experience, which is barely taught in music schools,” says Israeli language coach Hemdi Kfir, who has been working for the summer course for 20 years. “This is about things they encounter on stage – how to deal with a director and with a conductor and how to integrate solfeggio and diction lessons into their operatic role so that it does not just stay in the class,” she elaborates. “From the start, Joan has been bringing the giants that belong to the past generation, such as Sherrill Milnes, Renata Scotto and Monserrat Caballe. What has changed is the quantity of Israeli students. While at first there were only a few of them, now half the students are from here, so Joan and her colleagues’ vision has come true.
Many Israeli singers who started at the workshop, such as Hadar Halevi, Sharon Rostorf and David Bizic and conductor Dan Ettinger now have successful international careers.”
Tel Aviv music lovers usually fill the hall of the Jaffa Music Center to capacity. There are several reasons for this, Kfir explains.
“People are always curious to know what is going on behind the scenes,” she says.
“To see how a few words by a tutor can release the student’s inner emotional and technical sources is simply amazing. The singers are still inexperienced and innocent; they emanate youthful energy, and listening to them is an invigorating experience. The love stories, on which many operas are built, are close to their hearts. They live through them, and so does the audience. The hall is rather small, so you see their facial expressions. There is such a precious immediacy about it!” There are three master classes, which Kfir especially recommends.
“Guy Joosten, a Belgian director, who staged Romeo and Juliet at the Met, is a brilliant person and captivating director. He will conduct a master class mostly on French repertoire. John Norris, who is back with us, concentrates on the connection between the body and the singing, he does it in a charming and playful manner but still very deep.”
And New Yorker Ira Siff is a multifaceted artist – a stage director and singer, a specialist in belcanto and verismo who also presents Metropolitan Operas Saturday live broadcasts. “He is such a witty man,” she says.
Kfir also wants to draw the audience’s attention to several special concerts that will take place during the course. “Comic opera, zarzuela and operetta are three genres that developed in France, Spain and Germany at the same time as opera seria. If performed well, they are as good as ‘serious’ operas. Siff, together with Israeli pianist Liora Maurer, who works at the Metropolitan and New York City operas, have prepared a belcanto and verismo evening that include arias from rarely performed operas such as Anna Bolena and Semiramide.”
Another concert is God, Madness and the Devil. “Joan wants to really research this theme. She will probably include fragments from Menotti’s Medium, maybe some famous madness scenes,” says Kfir.
And there also is an enjoyable Broadway evening prepared by Dan Gettinger. “He is a pianist and at the same time such a showman. He choreographs almost every number!” The program features five opera productions: Donizetti’s The Love Potion; Menotti’s Medium; Puccini’s La Boheme; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; and Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. “We chose the soloists, both Israelis and the foreign students, in the most effective way, and I think it will be great. For example, we cast Israeli Yasmin Levi Ellentuck as Ariadne, and her voice suits the Strauss opera to perfection.”
The Summer Program activities take place at the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Music Center (She’arit Israel 10), with the exception of the closing gala evening (at TAPAC) and a special event at the Tzora Winery.
For reservations: (03) 521-5200 (02) 990-8261 (for the event at Tzora)