Flying Lessons Premieres at the Cameri


“Living under the same roof naturally creates a dialogue between the Cameri Theatre and the Israeli Opera,” said Omri Nitzan, introducing Flying Lessons, a new co-production of the Cameri, Israeli Opera and the Israel Sinfonietta Beer Sheva. Based on a novel by Nava Semel, who wrote the libretto, with music composed by Ella Milch Sheriff, Flying Lessons is a Chamber Opera, which Nitzan described as “an attempt to open up the boundaries of both opera and theatre, creating an artistic space where members of the theatre world rarely set foot.” Flying Lessons will premiere at the Cameri Theatre on January 7, 2010.

Writer Nava Semel described her work:

Flying Lessons takes place in the early years of the State of Israel, when the self-conceived ‘Israeli’ encounters the others who arrived in this country. The opera examines the way Israel conceived of itself – full of hope, dreams and optimism. It tells the story of Hadara, a young girl in the 1950s when waves of immigrants came to Israel. It tells the story of Maurice, a Holocaust survivor, but this is not the Holocaust narrative with which we are familiar. This is a survivor from Tunisia. He doesn’t speak Yiddish, he speaks Arabic and French. The Holocaust of North African Jews is a subject that has remained unspoken.

We [Israel] paid a great price for our desire to be ‘Israelis by the book’, the book we wrote. The cultures of North Africa, with their traditions, folklore and mystical elements, are all but lost to us today. As an Israeli writer, I would like to save as much as I can from this treasure, to bring it back to our concept of ‘Israeli’. Let us look back for a moment to that instant when Israel was like a dream, based on concepts of solidarity and fellowship…the feeling that we are changing the world.

When we look at Israel with the eyes of 2009 we see that the dream was not realized in precisely the way we had wished. Yet some of those values have not entirely disappeared. In Flying Lessons, Hadara wants Maurice to teach her to fly. There is a poetic aspect to the play, the title in Hebrew – Lauf Mikan, (means to fly away from here) has different associations. In part it expresses the wish to arrive at an emotional place from which we can look at Israel from the bird’s eye view. There is pain expressed in the play, but it is also written with a smile, perhaps no longer so innocent.

This is the second collaboration of Semel with Ella Milch Sheriff, whose “And the Rat Laughed” an opera which centers on the memory of the Holocaust and the subject of memory itself, has been a success both in Israel and abroad.  In the current composition, Sheriff drew on contemporary Israeli motifs with traditional Tunisian elements, with an emphasis on those composed by Jews of Djerba to create an opera that will be, in her words, “full of rhythm and joy”.
“For us the 1950s exist only in images from postcards,” says Yael Ronen, who is directing the play, “it is not a three dimensional reality.” Ronen and designer Anat Sternschoss, took these nostalgic images as a point of departure for creating the set. Inspired by cards and the graphic work of the 50s, citing the Shamir Brothers as an example, Sternschoss created a set based on two dimensional images in which there are actually two sets – front and back. The front stage is very colorful with images recalling paper cut art, while the back of the stage reveals only shadows, in a play between two and three dimensional images, reflecting the shadowed world of secrets that lies beneath the colorful surface. 

January 7, 9, & 10 at 20:30, January 8 at 12:00
The Cameri Theatre, 19 Shaul Hamelech Blvd., Tel Aviv
Tickets:, 03-6060960

Image credit: Elizur Reuveni