The "Sheer Improbability" of the Masada Opera Festival

June 24, 2015 | William Littler
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The Israeli Opera recently held its fifth annual opera festival at Masada—the mountaintop fortress in the Judean Desert where a group of besieged Jewish rebels killed themselves rather than surrender to Roman legionaries in 73 CE. William Littler reports:

Each year for the past five, a temporary stage has been set up in the desert near the mountain’s base, along with bleachers for 7,000 people, and every June visitors from all over Israel and abroad congregate for an operatic experience like no other. Opera in the desert? Outdoors? And amplified? The sheer improbability of it all is breathtaking. But then, so is Masada, as anyone who takes a cable car or walks to the ruins on its summit quickly appreciates. . . .

Not that the performances I witnessed of Puccini’s Tosca and Orff’s Carmina Burana as a guest of the Ministry of Tourism were entirely satisfying from a purely musical point of view. Given the physical conditions of performing in the desert, how could they be?

People come here to participate in an event, some of them staying in Dead Sea resort hotels, some taking a long drive from Jerusalem. In either case they are rewarded with full-scale productions accompanied by a large orchestra and chorus.

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