It was a magnificent night at the opera even if the people behind me were more interested in their iPhone apps than with the classic story unfolding on stage.
I had been invited to attend the Final Dress Rehearsal of Aida at Masada, along with 140 other journalists, 40 foreign diplomats, and nearly 7,000 Israelis – many of them from periphery communities.
The Israeli Opera is very open about its mission to bring spectators from all classes of society to its shows, especially those who usually wouldn’t see this art form. And though the majority of the audience sat mesmerized in their seats throughout the nearly four-hour affair, the two couples sitting behind me missed the magic of the event and chatted throughout the first two acts before leaving early (lucky for me).
Their chatter aside, there was a feeling of great excitement in the air.
The desert backdrop was perfect for the improbable love story of the Ethiopian princess and the Egyptian army officer. The sets were incredible and the lighting design was astonishing.
American soprano Kirstin Lewis, who took the lead role of Aida, served up gorgeous high notes to an audience gathered at the lowest point on earth.
It was a grand-scale production in every sense of the word. Joining the 20 multi-national opera singers on stage were a Bedouin dance troupe from Rahat, a dance troupe from Arad, and dozens of chorus singers and actors. Maestro Daniel Oren was on the podium conducting the Israel Symphony Orchestra Rishon LeZion. And, being set in Egypt, there were herds of camels, too.
The production of Aida marks the beginning of the 2011 Israeli Opera Festival.
Having seen a good number of operas before, there is no doubt that this was a performance to remember. And, though they cut out early and showed complete disinterest, I believe that even the folks in the row behind me will keep a memory of being at the opera.