When the Cincinnati Opera presents “Ariadne auf Naxos” July 6-14 at the School for Creative and Performing Arts, it will do so with brilliant young director Omer Ben Seadia at the helm. A rising star in the world of opera, her resume already includes work with opera companies and performing arts groups throughout North America.
Ben Seadia has accomplished all of this only since moving to the United States in 2012, from Israel. Formative years with the Israeli Opera were crucial for her artistic career.
“The Israeli Opera essentially ‘raised’ me, artistically,” she points out. “I got my first job there as a performer in a community production of ‘Barber of Seville,’ all done in Hebrew.”
Aside from performing, a young Ben Seadia kicked off an internship there at just 15 years of age, one which gave her well-rounded experience at every facet of the established and celebrated opera company. “I learned everything and anything about making opera,” she says, “from working at the different departments, from artistic to production to education and outreach.” It would also give her experience working with international artists, many of which she’s gone on to work with since.
Before moving to the United States, Ben Seadia also studied theater at Seminar Hakibutzim in Tel Aviv – where she learned the importance of an artist’s need to reflect the world around them.
“The directors and teachers there taught me so much about being a thoughtful and engaged director,” she says. “I was taught to be aware of my surroundings both socially and politically, and develop a humanistic approach to directing. I carry those lessons with me wherever I go.”
Here in Cincinnati, she added her own touches to “Ariadne,” which hasn’t been performed in the Queen City for over 60 years. With utmost respect for the work, she considers the Richard Strauss opera nothing less than “a celebration of the art form and a wonderful treat for anyone who loves the medium,” while simultaneously pointing out its appeal for audiences new to opera. “It's funny, it's moving and it's a fun night out at the opera,” she shares.
In her hands, the opera classic is updated to a mid-century Cincinnati setting. “Maria Callas meets Marilyn Monroe,” she said, with “Maria Callas representing ‘high culture’ and Marilyn representing ‘low brow.’ The opera is known for combining both basic slapstick comedy with thrilling, beautiful music – a perilous balance to maintain but a masterful pairing with the proper director in place. “It's genuinely funny and profoundly heartbreaking,” Ben Seadia says.
The updated production also includes both English and German language, and is a bold move by a director making waves in the opera community. That confidence has always been a strong personality trait for Ben Seadia, bolstered by the support she’s received from Cincinnati’s Jewish community since arriving in 2012.
“From Friday night dinners to holidays to the every day,” she shares, speaking to the encouragement she found here. “I was ‘adopted’ by Steven Goldstein and Rabbi Steve Greenberg who, along with Robin Guarino, were my mentors and family. Later, I would meet Ed and Nancy Rosenthal and Anne Arenstein and Rick Sarason, who welcomed me into their homes and their families.
“The community has made being away from home that much easier,” she says.
That doesn’t mean she doesn’t long for return trips to connect with family and friends, however. “I miss Tel-Aviv more than anything … there is no city like it,” she says, quite matter-of-factly. So, it makes sense that she also plans to share her artistic vision at home as well, noting a desire to bring her work to Israel at some point, “so I can share it with my community.”
“One of the magical parts of opera is its ability to transcend above country or language,” Ben Seadia observes, “and so you will not find a whole lot of differences between audiences around the world. Music and art are the last true unifier that we can rely on.”