Opera Star Edis De Philippe Dies
Palestinian Folk-Opera Poster advertises a performance of Verdi's La Traviata, with guest star Edis De Philippe. Photo: Shabtai Benaroyo Institute

July 5, 1979

Israel National Opera Company founder Edis De Philippe dies at age 67 after brain surgery.

A New York native, De Philippe studied music, ballet and half a dozen languages before committing to singing. She performed in musicals starting at age 18, then in 1935 made her New York opera debut as the lead in Verdi’s “La Traviata” for the company that became the Metropolitan Opera. She performed across Europe and starred at the Paris Opera through the late 1930s. She planned to move to Palestine and establish an opera there but instead fled the Nazis and returned to the United States in 1941.

De Philippe made aliyah in 1945 and performed with the Palestine Folk Opera, which held intermittent shows in various cities. She performed for the Zionist Congress in Basel in December 1946 and presented her plan to launch an opera company, which won approval. She opened the Israel National Opera Company in 1947, performing a recital Nov. 29, the day the United Nations approved its Palestine partition plan, and soon after starring in a full production of “Thais.”

She financed and managed the company and was its star as it held a thousand performances across the state of Israel from 1947 to 1958, including the use of Tel Aviv’s Habima Theatre one night a week. The opera in 1958 moved into the Allenby Street building that provided the first home of the Knesset in Tel Aviv; that 900-seat auditorium served the opera for the rest of De Philippe’s life and beyond.

The Ministry of Culture and Education cuts off the company’s funding in 1982, but it is reborn as the New Israeli Opera in 1985. The government builds the company a state-of-the-art opera house in Tel Aviv.