A French delight

Maestro Dan Ettinger talks about ‘Manon’, the new production that opens the Israeli Opera’s season

A French delight (photo credit: MARTYNAS ALEKSA)
A French delight
(photo credit: MARTYNAS ALEKSA)
The Israeli Opera opens its 2019-2020 season with a local premier of Jules Massenet’s Manon, under the baton of Dan Ettinger, which will run at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center beginning November 7.
Ettinger, who was recently appointed as the artistic director of the Israeli Opera, says he has special feelings for the piece, which he describes as a “French delight.”
An internationally renowned opera and symphony conductor, who conducts regularly in some of the best opera houses around the world, Ettinger started his career as a pianist and baritone singer, and he first encounter with Manon was as a singer.
“Some 20 years ago I participated at the Tel Aviv Summer Opera Master Class in a production of Manon, in the role of Manon’s cousin, next to Israeli soprano Sharon Rostorff. Now, for me, this will be the first time that I conduct this opera. Later this season, I will also conduct it in Opera Bastille in Paris,” he says.
As someone who developed ahis opera personality in the Israeli Opera House, before launching an international career, Ettinger feels that his appointment as the Artistic Director is a kind of “homecoming”, which he sees as an important step in his career, “Especially considering the fact that for almost 10 years I did not conduct  at all in the Israeli opera.”
Ettinger accentuates that the very existence of the Israeli Opera should not be taken for granted, especially under current political and economical conditions.
“All over the world opera theaters – and actually all cultural intuitions – face similar existential challenges, such as aging and loss of the audience, budget cuts and more. But despite all that, the Israeli Opera is actually in great shape.”
Ettinger goes on to say that in technical aspects, the Opera theater is the only one in Israel that answers to international standards.
“International conductors, stage directors, stage and lighting designers and singers find here the same conditions as in the large opera houses in Europe. This gives them the physical conditions for unlimited self-expression.”
Ettinger goes on to explains that due to budget limitations, international opera houses are forced to create co-productions.
“Opera is an extremely costly genre, so several opera companies get together and invest in a production, which would later run on their stages. Since the Israeli opera answers to international standards, we are a part of this circle, or maybe vice versa. To join this circle - which is in many ways most rewarding - we have to answer to the highest standards.”
Granted, there’s no age-long opera tradition in Israel, “but there is a decades-long one and it shouldn’t be underestimated,” says Ettinger. No doubt while planning the opera company’s repertoire, the audience’s taste should be taken in consideration. That said, it shouldn’t be built only on mainstream pieces.
“It’s important to also include operas which are unfamiliar, or important for this or that reason, even if they will be performed fewer times, rather than not to perform them at all. An opera company should see its activity in a long-term perspective. This is what makes it lively, interesting and relevant,” says Ettinger. 
Back to Manon, which has brought him to Israel this time, Ettinger boasts that at least seven Israeli singers perform in the production alongside three international singers. “I see it as an excellent balance between local and international music forces. This is an extremely important change which took place over the last decade, and is a result of a hard and dedicated work of local music institutions. In the past, we, the Israeli singers, had to struggle to be cast in opera productions. But now we have an entire generation of Israeli opera singers who appear in almost every production, and I believe that our audience is aware of it and appreciates it.”
Manon, by Massenet, staged by Vincent Boussard and conducted by Dan Ettinger, runs from November 7-18. For details and reservations, visit israel-opera.co.il.