Singing – and dancing

Yoram Karmi choreographs the Israeli Opera’s new production.

Preview of The Israeli Opera's A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten (YouTube/IsraeliOpera)
When we talk about triple threats, meaning performers who can sing, act and dance, we usually are referring to individuals who work in the field of musical theater. However, opera performers also fit this description. They sing, they act, and often they dance. However, all these actions must be done with an added limitation – the necessity to face front and keep a clear line of vision with the conductor at all times. For this reason, when choreographer Yoram Karmi walks into a rehearsal studio with opera performers, he knows that a certain amount of finesse is required in order to convince his cast to bend the opera rules here and there.
“The actual singing really limits them,” explains Karmi in the kitchen of his troupe Fresco Dance Group’s studio. “The performers need to see the conductor at all times, and they need to sound good. They can’t sing with their back to the audience. My job is to free up people who don’t usually dance to dance. Getting them to jump, go to the floor, hug, lie down or spin all while singing requires a lot of trust.”
Set back from the hubbub of its environs, Tel Aviv’s central bus station, Fresco Dance Company’s home has three studios, a treatment room and offices. As we sat, the largest of the three studios was being outfitted with lights, which will allow Karmi to host not only rehearsals but also performances in his space. The company is in mid-season, performing several productions around Israel and maintaining a full-time rehearsal schedule. All the while, Karmi is in the throes of rehearsals leading up to the premiere of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Israeli Opera.
“I’m working 14-hour days,” he says. “It’s a lot, but I really can’t complain.”
This is Karmi’s fourth opera production with the Israeli Opera.
Two years ago, he choreographed The Israelis, a two-part production consisting of works written by Israeli authors.
“It was very successful. Following that, they invited back the same crew, which was myself, director Ido Ricklin, lighting designer Bambi (Avi Yona Bueno) and costume designer Oren Dar,” he says.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is exponentially larger than The Israelis in both cast and complexity.
“We had four singers in The Israelis; now we have 25 soloists, a children’s choir and an orchestra,” he explains.
Karmi sees his role in this opera as a “movement designer,” although the credits list him as “choreographer.”
“What I’m doing is stylizing the movement; less choreography in its traditional sense,” he says.
The production is designed to look like a 1930s Hollywood set, with moving lights, cameras and stage set.
“The singers are very much involved in moving the set pieces. The challenge, for me, was to take the style and translate it into movement so that along with the look, makeup and costume, the movement would also be fitted to the era,” he says.
To bring the well-known Shakespearean tale into a different time frame, Ricklin called on his theater background to bring some much-needed credibility to the drama.
“Ido’s approach is that every element needs to be handled with as much specificity and attention as the partitive. It’s really incredible to see him work, and it adds so much to the scope of the opera,” he marvels.
Karmi’s experience of Ricklin is that he is not just a director but a choreographer as well.
“Ido and I are neighbors. I run into him while walking my dog, and there’s no chance we won’t get into a conversation about the opera and what we’re thinking about it. So, although the process is five weeks, it has been going on for a lot longer than that informally. Ido sees things in relation to space. He comes in with ideas about how each scene should flow and travel through the space. It’s very unique and means that I don’t have to start from scratch when devising the movement,” he says.
The opera will premiere during the first week of January. Karmi plans to make it to the bows.
“It just so happens that the premiere coincides with a performance of my company of Golden Ratio at the Suzanne Dellal Center. I’ll have to rush over to the opera for the last seconds,” Karmi laughs.
‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ will run from January 4 through January 17 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For more information, visit