Opera gets taken off its pedestal

Community participation is not usually associated with the opera.

Community participation is not usually associated with the opera. If anything, the dramatic art form is often considered elitist, requiring knowledge of a foreign language and endurance to sit through hours of arias. The New Israeli Opera is changing these notions through its community opera project, this year in Afula. "The goal of this program is to take opera down from secluded high places," said conductor David Zeba, who always conducts the community projects. "So many people say they don't like opera, but it's because they don't know." The New Israeli Opera has been organizing this activity, which is sponsored in part by the Culture Ministry, for over 10 years around the country. It chooses a different site each year, including locations such as Kfar Shalem in Tel Aviv, Ashkelon, Ramle and the Gilo neighborhood in Jerusalem. Hundreds of local citizens participate in the opera in the form of chorus members, dancers, actors and singers. Community members audition for roles, which they play alongside five professional opera soloists and the Ra'anana Symphony Orchestra under the direction of New Israeli Opera's Dan Ehrlich. Many of this year's participants hail from Afula's Arts High School and community center. Operas are generally quite limited in terms of casting, so "we created new roles for talented community members," said Zeba. To help make the opera more accessible, Zeba translated this year's opera, Elixir of Love (L'Elisir d'amore) by Gaetano Donizetti, from the original Italian into Hebrew. Elixir of Love is a comic opera that tells the tale of a love triangle in an Italian village between a tenor, Nemorino, a soprano, Adina, and a baritone, Belcore. The plot hinges on whether earnest but dim-witted Nemorino will snag Adina, the flirtatious heroine. She's a tease who takes up with the soldier Belcore to make Nemorino jealous. After numerous (and humorous) plot twists that include a love elixir of wine, it all ends happily. Adina and Nemorino declare their love for each other, Belcore is dumped, and the fraudulent Dulcamara goes into the love potion business. For Zeba, the Afula production has not been too unlike the romance itself. "There are always embarrassing moments at first, and [the community] can be unsure if they want to continue," said Zeba. "But by the end, they can't leave each other. I love seeing how opera conquers hearts and succeeds every time." Performances begin December 4 at 8:30 p.m. at Merkaz Hatarbut in Afula. Extra performances will be held in the morning and rehearsals will be open for students. Tickets are on sale for NIS 50 with students and pensioners paying NIS 35. Call (04) 659-5797.