The only singing usually heard in the crowded alleyways of the Machane Yehuda fruit and vegetable market is vendors yelling out competing prices for cucumbers. But on a recent afternoon, costumed performers belted out arias from The Elixir of Love by Donizetti, as well as Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
The event was a plug for an upcoming opera festival in Jerusalem, and meant to broaden opera’s reach beyond the well-heeled, and often elderly, crowd that frequents the Opera House in Tel Aviv.
"Opera is the most accessible and wonderful art form that exists," Michael Eisenstadt, the artistic administrator of the opera told The Media Line. "A lot of people hear the word opera and shriek or turn away because they have all kinds of misconceptions."
The crowd at the market was appreciative, especially when the soloists brought them into the action. At one point, Tal Bergman, dressed as a soldier, serenaded an elderly woman, tenderly cradling her head at the end of the song, as many in the crowd smiled.
"Who’s that?" one observer asked her neighbor. "That’s not one of our uniforms," she added worriedly.
Soloist Alla Vasilevitsky moved to Israel seven years ago from a region of the former Soviet Union that borders on China. She says she hopes that more Israelis will learn to like opera.
"We want people to like opera and to connect with it," she told The Media Line.
The audience seemed appreciative, applauding after each song, and taking selfies with the performers.
"It was beautiful, very beautiful," Adar Acrech, a tourist from Canada told The Media Line. "It’s nice to be part of the culture here and experience something beautiful."
Her daughter Gabriella said it was her first time hearing live opera.
"I loved it," she breathed, her eyes shining.
Shopper Ilana Kattani said she had made a last-minute decision to come to the market, famed for its colorful fruits and vegetables alongside stalls selling nuts, olives, and spices.
"I’m really glad I came today," she told The Media Line. "I enjoyed it and I think most people did."
Opera artistic director Eisenstadt said he had had some trepidation about bringing the young soloists to the market.
"People were a little skeptical, but you could see that once they started singing everyone was captivated," he said.
Some of the vendors in the market said they felt more captive than captivated by the performance. One owner, who did not want to be quoted, said he couldn’t wait for the performers to move away from his store, and that he had lost business after shoppers turned to other stalls.
But others said they were glad for the diversion.
"This music isn’t my style – I like Mizrachi (Oriental music)," Yakir Yaacobi said as he reorganized his pistachio nuts to the tune of an Israeli pop singer. "But people here seemed to enjoy it."
Article written by Linda Gradstein.
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line.