'The Journey to Rheims" sounds solemn, but isn't. "La Gioconda" (the merry one) sounds happy, but isn't. That's opera. The first by Rossini, and the second by Ponchielli - yes, that's the one with the famous "Dance of the Hours" in it - will make their local debut as part of the Israel Opera's 23rd season. Altogether there are eight productions, and six of them are new. Rossini's "Journey" opens the season and is a tour de force for 18 virtuoso singers. It was written for the coronation of Charles X of France in 1825 and tells what happens when a bunch of daffy travelers get stuck in the Golden Lily Inn on their way to the coronation. It doesn't really have a plot, writes one critic cheerfully - you just sit back and enjoy the vocal and visual fireworks. "Gioconda" (May 2008) is about a street singer who's in love with Enzo, a handsome sea captain who's really a nobleman. who's in love with Laura, the beautiful wife of Alvise, the head of the Inquisition, whose agent Barnaba lusts after La Gioconda. Right. The plot twists and turns like a maze and at the end, in proper 19th century grand opera style, the heroine is dead. The conductor is Israel Opera music director Asher Fisch who's also conducting a new production of Verdi's "La forza del destino" (January 2008), a story of love, friendship, vengeance and death. Bass Paata Burchuladze is back for that one. Fisch is on the podium again for a revival of "Journey to the End of the Millennium" (February 2008) by Josef Bardanashvili based on the book of that name by A.B. Yehoshua. It was commissioned for the Israel Opera's 20th anniversary. Gaby Sadeh recreates the role of Ben Attar, the wealthy merchant whose belief that dialogue and compromise are possible leads to tragic consequences for himself and his family. Spanish actress/director Nuria Espert is the director for a new production of Puccini's "Turandot," the story of a proud Chinese princess who has suitors decapitated if they can't answer her riddles. Other new productions are "Madame Butterfly" (April 2008) by Puccini with our own Larissa Tetuev in the title role, and Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" (June 2008) directed by choreographer Sasha Waltz whose company is part of the production. A revival of Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" ends the season in July.