Israeli Opera Festival 2012 will feature five performances of the classic opera, Carmen, June 7 to 11 at Masada. According to the Israeli Opera’s Artistic Director, Michael Ajzenstadt, 50,000 people from across Israel and all over the world are coming to experience opera at the lowest point on earth, beneath the mountain of Masada and across from the Dead Sea.
Choosing the location for this momentous performance was a delicate balance between aesthetic appeal and the imperative to not effect the historic site in any way. “We wanted to perform opera in the desert, not just to have an opera performance at a desert location,” said Ajzenstadt. “There is no stage. There is sand and rock beneath the mountain. The set is an extension of the surrounding habitat. In three weeks we will deconstruct the set and leave no trace.”
The idea of performing opera outdoors or at historic sights is not new, nor unique to Israel. It goes back to the tradition of traveling performance in the Middle Ages. There have been performances at the Roman amphitheaters in Italy, at the pyramids in Egypt and the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. In Israel there have been outdoor performances opposite the walls of the Old City in Jerusalem and in the amphitheaters of Caesarea and Beit Ha’am.
But in other famous cases, the operas performed at outdoor historic sights generally were connected to the location through its plot or history. There were never any operas written about or performed at Masada. The last major artistic performance at Masada was Israel’s 40th Independence Day celebration in 1988.
Ajzenstadt said that the entire crew, including 10 international soloists, many of whom had never been to Israel before, was affected by the symbolism and significance of the location’s natural beauty. They stood in awe for almost an hour before rehearsals began.
“It proves you can have a modern cultural event without obstructing nature or the historical environment,” said Ajzenstadt. “It combines environment and history with art and opera in one of the most special places on earth.”