For the 2018-2019 season, the Israel Opera (IO) has treats in store: the incredibly gifted Itay Tiran, backed by an all-Israeli tech team, directs his first opera, Richard Strauss’ sultry Salome, based on the Oscar Wilde play of that name – that bedeviled Salome who demanded the head of John the Baptist as the price for dancing before Herod. Dan Ettinger conducts (January 2019).Canadian director Atom Egoyan, who won the prestigious Dan David prize in 2008 and has directed prize-winning films (The Sweet Hereafter), presents a highschool hijinks version of Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte (“Thus Do They All”) set in a girls’ finishing school, “thus solving a lot of issues that defy credibility,” says Egoyan.The conductor is our own Daniel Cohen (May-June/2019).There’s a goodly number of our own singers taking the lead in various operas, more and more every season, just as was promised 30 or so years ago. (It takes time to train lead singers.) They include Hila Baggio, Ira Bertman, Nur Darwish, Hila Fahima, Alla Vasilevitzkaya and honorary Israelis Gustavo Porta and Ionut Pascu.“Why is it mostly female singers?” was a question asked at yesterday’s press conference, to which IO general director Zach Granit didn’t have an answer. Could it be that in our uber-macho society singing opera is not regarded as sufficiently manly? There’s also a challenge. Bravely (and because it’s time to), IO offers The Passenger, on women sent to Auschwitz, by contemporary Russian-Jewish composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996), most of whose family perished in the Holocaust.It’s to be directed by David Pountney, who premiered the first fully staged version of the opera at Bregenz in 2010 (May 2019).Pountney is also doing Guiseppe Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, the story of a pirate who becomes the first Doge of Genoa. The conductor is Giuliano Carella (July 2019).Daniel Oren will be on the podium for two beloved staples: Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera (Masked Ball) with Bertman, Hila Baggio, Porta and Pascu onstage, and Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, to be directed by Alessandro Talevi in an exact recreation of the first production in 1900 in Rome.Being Grand Opera, both are filled with romance, villainy, intrigue, treachery and more. What could be better? (February and March/April 2019 respectively).Massenet’s romantic opera on unrequited love – Werther – with the Israeli debut of conductor Alain Guingal, completes the bill (November 2018).Dance – The IO “has looked for the most influential choreographers over the past 50 years,” says Granit. These include the doyenne of cutting-edge contemporary dance, the late Pina Bausch (1940-2009), and her Wuppertal Dance Theater with the lightfiled Masurca Fogo, inspired by Lisbon, Portugal, set to a musical collage that includes fado and jazz. The company was last here 23 years ago (October 2018).Then there’s a couple of choreographic giants in the persons of Wayne McGregor (the Royal Ballet) and Yuri Grigorovich (the Bolshoi) who bring their own companies to dance, respectively, Entity (2008) and Spartacus (1968).The former is a breathtaking multimedia... well... entity that continues to explore McGregor’s interest in the link between the arts and science (November 2018), while the latter is a grand ballet spectacular to the music of Khatchaturian and crammed with virtuoso dancing and special effects (December 2018).It wasn’t allowed to use the title but Nino Rota did let them use his music for The Godfather, so the Grand Canadian Ballet is coming with its big, brash and daring Vendetta – Stories of the Mafia (February/March 2019).Sasha Waltz, yet another contemporary dance icon, and guests perform the volcanic Continu to an eclectic soundtrack (May 2019).And here’s two crowd-pleasers: the Boris Eifman Ballet with Tchaikovsky, Pro et Contra, on the life of the great composer, and Russian Hamlet, to music by Beethoven and Mahler (October 2018), as well as the Ballet Hispanico with a Latin/Picasso-inspired Carmen (July 2019).Music – Granit observed that the IO “is always aiming for dialogue among the musical world’s encounters,” which is why it has an diverse musical program that ranges from the seven concerts of the Symphonic Series to Reflections, a new three-concert series by Shlomi Shaban and the Camerata Orchestra that interprets the classics in terms of the 21st century.The first concert, for instance, matches the Shostakovitch piano quintet with electronic music (December 2, 2018).Then the East-West Series with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, whose four concerts include a musical tribute to Africa (November 20, 2018), Athens-Jerusalem with Miri Mesika (December 13, 2019), and the late great Zohar Argov (July 16, 2019).And among the rest, the Revolution Series brings us Replay II – Live performances of Dead Artists from Piaf to Pavarotti (June 20, 2019).The kids aren’t forgotten either: their programs include a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, a new program called What About the Deer featuring dramatizations of popular Israeli children’s songs, and Nitza Shaul’s Magical Sounds (now in its 23rd year), which showcases the world’s great composers (disclosure: my grandson loved this from about ages three to five).And all this on a budget of some NIS 90 million – tiny for an opera house.Granit, who took over last year from Hannah Munitz, loves his job, is thrilled by the people he works with and when asked why there is no liturgical music, answers, “so many others are doing that. We want to do what the others aren’t doing.”And that about sums it up.