The Children's Opera Hour of the Israeli Opera company is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Its season opens on September 8th, and will include some 50 performances of classic operas adapted to suit younger audiences aged 3-8.
"As an Israeli opera, we were always interested [in doing something for children] but we didn't know what to do for them," tells Michael Eisenstadt, who started the series. "We started doing mini operas, without narrators or costumes... [and were] surprised to realize that the kids really, really loved it. The enthusiasm from this amazing, receptive audience... [convinced us that] it was the right thing to put a little more into it."
Over the past decade, these "mini-operas" have evolved into performances that stand on their own, and are tailored especially to their young audience members. The operas are in Hebrew so that the children can understand, and are condensed into 55-minute shows.
The performances are done in the foyer of the opera house, not on the main stage. According to Eisenstadt, it's "a nice place for 200-250 kids, where they are hands reach from the performers."
He also says that this is an aspect that the performers themselves appreciate. "[The singers] enjoy it very much because of the immediate, hands-on contact with the children. After a performance, the children want to hug, speak with, thank the singers... it's the most gratifying thing for every performer."
Much care is taken in choosing which operas to perform. Once an opera is chosen, it is then translated, adapted and condensed into a story that makes sense to children, and can be performed within an hour.
"We choose operas that have stories the children are familiar with," says Eisenstadt. "Luckily a nice number of operas are based on children's fairy tales. Most operas are, at the end, melodramas that end with overblown death scenes... not what you want to show children."
The Children's Opera repertoire includes The Magic Flute, Hansel and Gretel, the Marriage of Figaro, Cinderella, Orfeo ud Euridice and theSnow Maiden, which is a new addition this year.
Says Eisenstadt, "The feedback from the children is just amazing.... [and it's incredible to see them with] eyes open and ears open, drawn into the story. To see children looking at the opera is one of the most gratifying experiences I have had in the Israeli opera."
Tickets and details are available at www.israel-opera.co.il