Israel Opera Festival's La Traviata rocks at Masada

Mon Jun 16, 2014 10:30am EDT
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By Ori Lewis

MASADA Israel (Reuters) - A spectacular performance of La Traviata, a tale of love and death, is the focus of the 2014 Masada Opera Festival with performances of Giuseppe Verdi's work at the arena on the shores of the Dead Sea.

The six-day festival, which ends on Tuesday, includes sets and costumes adorned by a myriad colored lights, flames and fireworks that create a dizzying spectacle with the imposing, bare sandstone Masada mountain serving as a backdrop.

Romanian soprano Aurelia Florian left the audience spellbound with her performance as Violetta, the opera's main character who rejects the love of her suitor Alfredo before dying prematurely.

La Traviata holds special significance in Israel's music history as it was the first opera to be staged in British-mandated Palestine, when an amateur group performed it in Tel Aviv in 1923. It has been regularly performed ever since.

Masada strikes a special chord among Israelis. According to the ancient historian Josephus, it was the site of a Roman siege that ended in 73 AD when hundreds of Jewish rebels committed mass suicide rather than fall as slaves to the Romans.

Built by King Herod as a winter palace between 37-31 BC, Masada is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has for decades been a source of archaeological fascination. The ambitious opera festival is being held there for the fourth time in five years.

After a break last year because of funding difficulties, the opera has returned to the craggy, desert site and has firm plans for performances until 2017, opera house general director Hanna Munitz said.

"It was very difficult for us to stop last year and it was very hard to come back, it's like restarting an engine. It's much easier to keep it going all the time... for the meantime we have plans for performances until 2017," Munitz told Reuters.   Continued...

Cast members wait backstage in between acts during a dress rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "La Traviata" at the foothill of Masada, an ancient Jewish mountaintop fortress near the Dead Sea in southeast Israel June 10, 2014. REUTERS/Amir Cohen