History buffs, travel enthusiasts and opera lovers can all find something to adore at the Israeli Opera productions that are performed at Masada. Against a desolate but magnificent scenery, the Israeli Opera delivered open air performances this past summer that brought history and passion to life in a region that has not changed in many epochs.
Located in the modestly populated Judean desert, Masada is a site that remained untouched for more than thirteen centuries. The structures and remains of human inhabitants gradually collapsed and were superimposed until the 1960s. Limited restorations have been executed as Masada is now a National Park and Unesco World Heritage Site.
The Israeli Opera at Masada is an event where history and visual representation meets art and the representation of sound. It is a beautiful mixture of pictures and words that come together at the site of an ancient fortress where the Jewish people had heroically fought off 5,000 Roman Soldiers. It is a symbol of the defense of liberty and taking a stance against oppression.
This past summer, the Israeli Opera held performances of Tosca and Carmina Burana at Masada during the week of Tel Aviv Gay Pride. The Carmina Burana is a manuscript of 254 poems from the 11th and 12th centuries. In 1936 Carl Orff composed music based on twenty four of the poems from Carmina Burana. This became a classical musical sensation with themes ranging from spiritual pieces to songs about morals and virtue, to love songs.
Armando Olmedo, who serves on the Board of Directors for the Florida Grand Opera, was present for the Carmina Burana performance at Masada. When asked what he thought about the production he witnessed, Mr. Olmedo said “It was by far one of the best outdoor productions I have ever seen, especially under arid conditions, both technically and performance wise. To put that quality of a production on outdoors in the desert is very impressive.”
Olmedo elaborated more on the visual piece of the production and explained that a procession of white horses were incorporated into the show. He described the scene as “an Indiana Jones like version of the story sprinkled with Lord of the Rings.”
David Treitel, Executive Committee Member of the Florida Grand Opera Board of Directors, was present at the performance as well and had this to add “the setting and the lighting was an incredible backdrop.” He added that “the production encouraged artists to be challenged musically to perform in another type of setting” and that “the musical direction was first rate.”
Both Olmedo and Treitel discussed how the Florida Grand Opera is exploring areas for future cooperation with the Israeli Opera. One such idea is to create a package for South Florida opera lovers and patrons to travel to Israel and witness these types of performances. The Israeli Opera is planning a performance of Rigoletto in Jerusalem in June 2016 after Tel Aviv Gay Pride concludes, and will continue its performances at Masada with the production of Samson and Delilah in September 2016. The production promises to be “larger than life” and will be sung in French as the tale of the valiant Samson faces betrayal by the temptress Delilah is enacted. It sounds like a wonderful theme from a film noir genre that will manifest as “opera noir,” as it were, before audiences.
Treital added that “Israel is a magical place to visit. There are historical and religious landmarks as well as beautiful beaches, and cultural activities.” With regard to the historical landmarks present in Israel that Treital pointed out, it is commendable and important that the Israeli Opera is honoring these historical stories and preventing history from being lost by having these types of performances.
What is most relevant to the important connection between the songs of Carmina Burana and the history that the Israeli Opera is preserving through its performances at Masada is how these performances tell stories about the human condition and the struggles in life that humanity faces just like the story of Masada’s history. One of the most notable songs of Carmina Burana, ‘O Fortuna,’ contains the following words:
like the moon
you are changeable,
and then soothes
as fancy takes it;
it melts them like ice.
The state of being fortunate is symbolically compared to the moon, as a changing force and a fact of life that has no guarantee. As the moon is used as metaphor for change containing both darkness and light in O Fortuna, we can also think of the moon as a metaphor that hovered over the mountainous backdrop of Masada during the First Jewish-Roman War during 70 CE. The desert moon witnessed the darkness of tyranny and repression but also saw the light of valor, courage and faith.
In terms of history and the magnitude of what Masada means for modern times, the wind that blows against the Dead Sea whispers the memories and history of the Jewish people in the silence of the Judean Desert, but mankind must be able to hear its whisper. It is important to be aware of history and honor it through preservation efforts. You can see magnificent performances and help preserve history by attending the Israeli Opera performances at Masada. Their website address is: Opera-Masada.com/en/. If you live in South Florida or anywhere in the U.S., you can also contact the Florida Grand Opera about their travel packages to Israel for opera lovers. Their website address is: FGO.org.