Israeli desert opera festival becomes a "tradition"

Mon Jun 6, 2011 9:06am EDT
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By Ori Lewis

MASADA, Israel (Reuters) - An Israeli opera festival's center-piece at the revered historical site of Masada this month was a tale of betrayal, love and death in the shape of Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi's Aida.

The spectacular staging on the barren shores of the Dead Sea with the stark sandstone plateau as a backdrop, followed performances of Verdi's Nabucco at the same venue last year.

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.

In Aida, an Ethiopian princess kept as a slave in ancient Egypt chooses to die with her beloved, a young Egyptian warrior, after he is sentenced to death for betraying his country.

At Masada, a huge stage was dominated by a Pharaonic statue. The open venue allowed American soprano Kristine Lewis who sang the title role to exit a scene on the back of a camel.

Israel Opera director Hanna Munitz said some 3,000 visitors from abroad bought tickets to the 12-day festival that began on June 1.

"(Had it not been for events in) Egypt, Libya and Syria, I think we could have had even more tourists coming from all over the world," Munitz said, referring to uprisings that have made the region appear more dangerous to visitors.

An Israeli Tourism Ministry spokeswoman said the number was down from some 4,000 who visited last year. The festival also includes a performance of another Verdi opera, Jerusalem, close to the walls of its Old City.   Continued...

<p>Members from Israel's opera perform Giuseppe Verdi's Aida during a dress rehearsal at the foothill of the historic mountain of Masada, near the Dead Sea May 31, 2011. Picture taken May 31, 2011. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside</p>