Jews don’t need reasons for a return trip to Israel – the state’s spirituality and its spirit are magnetic and consistent draws. And yet no country is as creative and energetic at re-inventing itself. Israeli biking trips, winery tours and spa retreats are but a drop in the Mediterranean bucket of experiences to be had. Whether it’s the beaches or the food, the archeological digs or the Bauhaus architecture, there’s always a new inducement to go back.
If you’re planning a Bar Mitzvah in Israel, there is a wealth of choices for your guests to enjoy while visiting. Here’s another: The Jerusalem Opera Festival. Now, I’m no opera aficionado, but I know this much: if you’re not yet an opera lover, then go take in an opera at the base of Masada in Israel. (If you are an opera lover, the same holds true.)
For the second year, the Israeli Opera has mounted a huge production at the foot of this unique attraction. It is a courageous logistical feat that rivals the vision of King Herod building the palace fortress in the first place. The stage, the set and every seat in the 7,000 person venue needed to be transported to the base of the mountain – from porta-potties to live camels. The VIP reception area alone encompassed oversized sofas, multiple bar areas and food-stations to rival any event I‘ve attended in any metropolis around the world.
As I approached the entrance, it was thrilling to see the international nature of the throngs and to hear multiple languages. Religious differences and border disputes took a definite back seat to the unifying passion for the arts. The scope of the open air festival delivers the art to a broader audience than is possible within the constraints of the opera house in Tel Aviv.
The festival creates yet another attraction in a country trying to generate tourism. Culture draws a new element of travelers that may have no interest in the history, geography or politics of Israel. I was particularly enchanted by a contingent of Italian music critics. If the Italians think it’s worth attending Aida in Israel, you know it’s on the operatic map.
The festival draws public awareness to the restoration and preservation of the Dead Sea. In fact, one of the pre-show announcements invited audience members to text their vote for the New Seven Wonders of the World from cell phones – a sort of Bible Studies meets American Idol.
For audiences who don’t make it all the way to Masada, the festival mounts dozens of other concerts in Jerusalem at a variety of more accessible venues including small churches. The gala opera concert at The Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem opened with the Arena di Verona Orchestra’s energetic rendition of The William Tell Overture and roused the audience to its feet with a quartet by a soprano, a mezzo soprano, a tenor and a bass. Internationally-renowned though they may be, the setting was the star of the show, being under the stars and in the original site of the sultan’s pool.
Next year, the company will mount Bizet’s Carmen. Hope to see you there in 2012.