With orchestras on vacation, music lovers can turn to the 21st annual Tel Aviv International Opera Summer Program. The program runs from Monday to August 4, offering master classes led by Joan Dorneman of the Metropolitan, and several arias, operas and concerts performed by young vocalists. This year, a new teacher joins the veteran tutors, who already include legends such as Mignon Dunn, John Norris and Hakan Hagegard - the famed Swedish baritone mostly known as Papageno from Bergman's Magic Flute. "At the universities, students don't have many opportunities to appear in front of the public, while here they appear a lot. This is one of the reasons why the workshop is so popular," explains Hemdi Kfir, artistic administrator of the summer workshop, speaking by phone from Paris. She reports that 80 students are participating this year. Half are Israeli, and the rest hail from countries such as the US, Canada, Korea, Mexico and Italy, the homeland of operatic singing. "This year, the overall level of the students is very high," Kfir observes. "We have a Chinese singer who recently won the Cardiff contest, the most important vocal competition in the world." She explains that performing in public is of utmost importance for beginner singers. "Open master classes are a simulation of an audition, and here, under the tension, all their problems come to the surface," she continues. "But they also get immediate feedback from a supportive audience as their singing improves." Another reason for the course's popularity is its intensive program. "People often say that they feel they've accomplished a half year's work," Kfir says. "Vocal studies are very expensive, and even when a singer performs and earns money, preparing a new role still costs a lot. In universities, a student receives one voice development lesson a week; here they receive much more, including coaching in acting, style and pronunciation." The summer course has proven to be a rewarding experience for the audiences as well. "The concert hall is rather small, and the singers are close to the public, which makes the entire experience very intimate," remarks Kfir. "People enjoy seeing young talents - the stars of tomorrow, there is a lot of energy about it. Those who aren't very familiar with the operatic genre and are not ready to spend an evening listening to an entire piece can hear a short fragment, see a student improving his or her singing in front of their eyes and come out with a feeling that together with the singer, they have learned something." Together with well-known classic pieces such as La Boheme and Il Barbiere di Seviglia, two new operas will be premiered in Israel. One is Der Zwerg (The Dwarf), by Alexander Zemlinsky, named after The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde, and another is Lost Childhood by Janice Hamer on libretto by Mary Azrael, based on the memoir of Holocaust survivor Yehuda Nir. All events take place at The Music Center in Jaffa. There is also one concert at the Shuni Fortress at Binyamina, and a closing gala concert at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. For tickets call (03) 521-5200 or visit www.hadran.co.il.