“Carmen” was one of the operas previously staged on top of Masada in Israel. // © 2012 Israeli Opera Festival
Next year, at the base of Israel’s most visited site, the majestic Mount Masada near the Dead Sea, thousands will revel in Puccini’s opera, “Turandot,” scheduled for June 6-10. This operatic extravaganza will be the fourth in the Masada Opera series, now a cultural mainstay and annual tradition.
Staged for just one five-day stretch each year, the opera involves the expertise of thousands of technicians, light and sound specialists, engineers, designers and support staff, as well as top operatic performers from all over the world, along with the Israeli Opera Choir and Orchestra. The Masada Opera is an experience unequalled anywhere else, and opera lovers and newcomers alike appreciate the open-air spectacles presented under the stars. Previous shows staged here include “Aida,” “Nabucco” and “Carmen.”
“The setting offers the ultimate combination of local scenery and opera, effected by the creation of hills and mounds of sand using railroad tracks, telegraph posts and other set designs that simulate a natural desert landscape,” said Hanna Munitz, general director of The Israeli Opera. “It is done in such a manner that the audience is unaware of where nature ends and art begins.”
Renowned conductor Daniel Oren will lead the cast on an enormous set built on the desert floor. Designed and created by Michal Zaniecki, the nearly 38,000-square-foot stage is positioned so that the Judean desert can be seen beyond. Though it takes three months to construct the stage, each year, the entire set is dismantled at the end of the opera’s performances so as not to disturb this historic and revered archeological site.
The production features dozens of faux Chinese terra-cotta warriors and a cast of hundreds. The story of “Turandot” takes place in the Forbidden City of Beijing, where the ice princess Turandot asks each prince who seeks her hand to answer three riddles. Those who are not able to do so correctly are sent to their death by hanging.
“Most of the attendees at our performances are not opera goers,” noted Munitz at a press conference for the 2012 show. “They come for an event. We expect growing numbers of tourists at our Masada operas. This is definitely the top non-religious tourism event in Israel.”
In addition to the draw of the performance, Masada remains one of Israel’s top tourist attractions. Masada was King Herod’s mountaintop palace and it became a stronghold and symbol of Jewish heroism in the revolt against the Romans. The ruins of Masada were discovered in 1842 and are still being excavated. Masada signaled the violent destruction of the kingdom of Judea at the end of the Second Temple period. The spot was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
A Jewish cultural icon, the site attracts 800,000 visitors each year who can walk or take the cable car up to the top and marvel at the well-preserved remains of the palace and of the ancient society that flourished here.
The opera can be easily packaged with visits to the Masada site during daylight hours. A 15-minute drive away is the Dead Sea, the lowest spot on earth at 1,300 feet below sea level.
The Dead Sea Hotel Association is a sponsor of the Masada Opera and offers a full range of packages for the event.