Pre-state Israel experienced its first opera premiere when the Russian-born conductor and visionary, Mordechai Golinkin, directed Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata” in September 1923. With no opera house in Tel Aviv at the time, the opera had to be performed in movie theaters. In Golinkin’s quest to pioneer opera life and culture, “La Traviata” was one of the first of several operas that he directed in the early years leading to Jewish statehood.
But now, more than 90 years later, that same opera is making its appearance once again in the Holy Land — this time under very different circumstances. The Israeli Opera today is internationally recognized, and Tel Aviv boasts a state-of-the-art Opera House at the city’s Performing Arts Center.
However, the new production of “La Traviata” will take place at Masada June 12 to 17 as the main performance of the fourth Israeli Opera Festival. In the past, the festival featured other Verdi operas — “Nabucco” in 2010 and “Aida” in 2011 — and also near the lowest point on earth.
“We want to give these stones life,” said Chana Munitz, Israeli Opera’s general director, in reference to Masada, a rugged natural fortress not far from the Dead Sea, where holdouts of the Jewish revolt against Roman rule chose death rather than slavery. “Producing opera in an opera house is one thing, but producing an opera event in the desert is quite another.”
The “La Traviata” production is directed by one of the world’s most renowned opera directors, Michal Znaniecki, who specializes in open-air productions. The show also will feature internationally acclaimed Israeli conductor maestro Daniel Oren.
Znaniecki, originally from Warsaw, told Tazpit News Agency that producing “La Traviata” in Masada “was a natural choice.”
“Masada’s history is a perfect backdrop,” he explained. “The life-and-death theme in the story resonates with what took place in Masada in addition to the landmark’s importance for the people of Israel.”
The Polish director began his career in 1994 and has directed 180 new productions of opera, theater plays and musicals in Poland, France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Norway and Argentina, among other countries.
Znaniecki has been working on the “La Traviata” production for the past three years and related that he is “excited to see the project finally happen in the Judean desert.”
It will be the largest and most complex opera production ever seen in Israel, employing some 2,500 people in addition to 700 participants and operating teams. The festival will also feature the Israel Philharmonic led by Kent Nagano and the Idan Raichel Project as well as singers from the Israeli Opera’s Meitar Opera Studio.
The Israel Ministry of Tourism expects 50,000 people from Israel and “cultural tourists” from abroad to partake in the festival. This year, the Israeli Opera Festival will also reach Akko (June 19-21) and will feature a weekend of Mozart at the subterranean Crusader Halls in Akkoís Old City.