Twenty years of operatic experiments

When the first Israel Vocal Arts Institute summer workshop opened at the Tel Aviv Conservatory in 1987, it was an experiment. Now it's an institution. After 20 years, it is still eagerly awaited by students and public alike, who for four blissful and very hectic weeks eat, drink, think, and dream opera - and of course, sing it too. This year's International Opera Workshop, (yes it's changed names), takes place mostly at the Tel Aviv Music Center in Jaffa from July 10 through August 5 with 85 young opera professionals from here and overseas. The teachers are themselves a roster of opera who's who and they're led by founding artistic director and Metropolitan Opera head coach Joan Dornemann whose idea it was in the first place. Some, like conductor and co-artistic director Paul Nadler, coach Mignon Dunn and language coach Bob Cowart, have been with the workshop from the start and haven't missed a year, intifada or no intifada. Some are new, like soprano Abbie Fumansky and conductor Laurent Wagner. The great baritone Sherill Milnes, who was one of IOW's very first teachers, is returning after many years away. Many fans return every year, paying to see the master classes taught by these great artists and flocking to the fully-staged-on-half-a-shoestring operas - not to mention the concerts, recitals and ending gala. This year's classes run from July 10-23. There are concerts on July 15th (arias), 24th (Puccini), 25th (Verdi), 26th (Verismo), 27th (Mozart songs). The operas include old favorites like Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio (July 29), Puccini's Tosca (August 3), Don Pasquale (July 31) by Donizetti, the dramatic Yevgeny Onegin by Tchaikovsky (July 30) and the Israeli debut of The Crucible by Robert Ward, based on Arthur Miller's famous play about the Salem witch hunts (August 1). The IOW has been the launching pad for some stellar careers, like conductor Dan Ettinger, who started out as a baritone and pianist, mezzo Hadar Halevi and bass Dennis Sedov. One of the very first directors was Francesca Zambello, now an opera household name. Tickets used to be cheap. No longer, and at NIS 45, 65 and 90 they're still scarce as hens' teeth.