Israeli Opera Probed for 'Exploiting' Carmen's Child Singers

Opera, Bat-Kol girls choir allegedly broke child labor laws by employing singers after 8 P.M.

The Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry is examining whether the Israeli Opera and the Bat-Kol girls choir broke child labor laws by having young choir members sing after 8 P.M. in "Carmen," which premiers tonight.

After a ministry representative discussed the issue with the opera company's management on Sunday, choir conductor Dalia Lazar-Shimon told the parents of singers younger than 10 that the children would be released after the first act.

The Israeli Opera said it would investigate the matter on Monday and correct any violations it found.

"It is with great sorrow and in tears that I inform you that following the despicable action of a few embittered parents who approached the media and complained about the 'suffering' and 'exploitation' of the children at the long rehearsals, beginning tomorrow the children will appear only in the first act and will go home!!!" Lazar-Shimon wrote in an e-mail to the parents on Sunday.

She was referring to a Haaretz article Friday that quoted parents as saying rehearsals sometimes went on for more than four hours.

The opera house said it had received approval from all the children's parents, who it said were fully aware of how long the rehearsals take.

The 1999 child labor law states that during the school year, children younger than 10 may work from the end of the school day until no later than 8 P.M., which is when most performances begin.

Children aged 10-12 are allowed to work until 11 P.M. and those aged 12-15 can work until midnight.

Ilana Dor-Mendelovich, the Industry Ministry official responsible for enforcing child labor laws, said that after she approached the opera house on Sunday, "they apparently realized they were in violation and they therefore decided to release the children."