Aida at Masada

Israel Inside Out is pleased to welcome this guest review of Aida staged at Masada

I am not an opera buff.  I’m not sure I have ever been to the opera before.  Nonetheless, I can say that the performance of Aida at Masada was nothing short of spectacular.

The 7,500 strong audience, who had flown in from all over the world, was assembled at the foot of Masada, Herod the Great’s stronghold and the last stand of the Zealots in the Jewish War against the Romans.  Although the show, inexplicably, didn’t start until 10pm this did add to the sense of drama.

There was something very moving about singing the Hatikva before the concert in such a setting.  (I am informed by the Opera People that this is protocol).  Conductor, Maestro Daniel Oren was greeted by the crowd with a loving homecoming cheer reserved for prodigal sons.

The idea of sitting through three hours of opera was somewhat daunting to me.  The word boring had crept into my mind more than once, even if it was Aida by Giuseppe Verdi (or Joe Green, – a little Opera People humor).  I was wrong.

The plot, accompanied by translation screens in Hebrew and English, developed at a speed that Jack Bauer would struggle to follow.  After my first doze, I realized I had to stay awake to keep up.  I am informed by the Opera People that a little light snoozing does, in fact, fall within opera etiquette.

The production made brilliant use of all that Israel had to offer, both for scenery and people:  A scene set on the Nile in which the hero returns from war had the dancers, as it turned out from Arad and a Bedouin troupe from the Negev town of Rahat, accompany the barge swiveling the inside of their cloaks like matadors, revealing blue lining, making the waves.  The surrounding desert dunes were lit in shimmering blue, increasing the marine effect.  The surprise fireworks at the end of the scene didn’t go amiss either.

At one moment (I may have been snoozing again…) I heard the French people around me exclaim –”Chameaux! Chameaux!” Indeed in the foreground, between the stage and the orchestra, there was a procession of camels carrying a character or two.  But still the French were exclaiming “Chameaux! Chameaux!” – And indeed off yonder, somewhere between the rock of Masada and the stage, was a caravan of camels, straight out of Lawrence of Arabia, meandering across the dunes.

The final and-they-all-die scene was a true finale:  As the characters were dying, which did go on for some time, the stage gradually became covered in small lights, spreading to the desert behind, and ultimately the whole of the mountain of Masada was covered in twinkling lights.

Next Year at Masada – Carmen
Bring it on!

Nicola Simmonds is a tour guide – she can be contacted through Israel Inside Out.

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