You could call this the Franco Zeffirelli season at the Israel Opera (IO). There'll be three of his enormous productions - a revival of La Boheme (March/April '09), which he first did eight years ago, his Carmen production (May/June) and Aida (July), which is the jewel in the crown because it's his La Scala production - and La Scala is coming lock, stock, and barrel. In honor of Tel Aviv's centenary, the 2008/'09 season is titled Once A Century and there are eight productions, including the Zeffirellis. Bardanashvili's Journey to the End of the Millennium, about a Jewish culture clash, was cut from this season because of budget. It will play for three performances only this December. The season opener in November is the National Lithuanian Opera production of Richard Strauss' Salome, based on the Oscar Wilde play about the woman who demanded the head of John the Baptist in return for dancing. Salome isn't exactly a household name in opera. Neither are Boito's Mefistofele (January/February '09), or Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen (Feb/March), but Israel Opera general director Hannah Munitz says that local audiences are sophisticated enough to welcome the lesser known, especially since the directors are familiar. They are, respectively, David Alden, Jean Louis Grinda and David. The Boito opera is the Faustian legend, but with the focus on Mephisto, and in Vixen, making its local debut, critters and humans share the stage in this story of love and survival. And lastly, there's a revival of Hugo de Ana's version of Tosca (April/May) to be conducted by Daniel Oren. Apart from Aida, La Scala will also perform Verdi's Requiem at Caesarea. Both opera and requiem will be conducted by Daniel Barenboim. Daniel Barenboim? The same Barenboim who noisily accepted Palestinian citizenship a couple of months back and has been roundly criticized for it since? The same, says Munitz, adding with quiet assurance that "while I admit to provocation on a personal level, that does not detract from his stature as an artist, and it is as an artist he is coming." Projecting that same assurance, Munitz defends her institution against the perennial accusation of elitism, saying that the Israel Opera's ongoing program of education and community outreach, especially to the younger generation, is producing a growing cadre of fans. "There are some 200 children at every opera performance," she says proudly, "coming from all parts of the country, thanks to culture basket funds. At first I hired extra ushers, thinking the children might be restless or noisy, but they were unnecessary because the kids are rapt from the beginning." More than that, performances are sold out and extra have to be added, as was the case for Turandot and the upcoming Madame Butterfly. Like the rest of the country's cultural institutions, the Israel Opera has had its already modest funding lopped. In 2005, the government provided NIS 19.5 million. Last year that was cut to NIS 16.4. The Opera's annual budget is around NIS 70 m. of which 60% is earned income. Munitz is an active member of the Cultural Forum, the countrywide association of cultural institutions that is pushing for MK Michael Melchior's bill to allocate 0.5% of the country's overall budget to culture.