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Monday, February 21, 2011

J’lem opera festival launched in David’s Tower

Productions will enable people to discover the quality of Israeli arts and culture, says tourism minister.

The walls of Jerusalem’s Old City once again echoed with impassioned cries from the Tower of David on Monday afternoon – not the voices of guards or soldiers protecting the city from invaders this time, but the voices of tenor Yotam Cohen and soprano Mirela Gradinaru from the Israeli Opera.

Accompanied by the opera’s pianist, the pair wowed journalists in one of the citadel’s chambers with arias and duets from popular operas.

The pertinent musical segments highlighted the announcement that the annual opera festival would be expanded to include Jerusalem. In attendance were Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Israeli Opera director Hanna Munitz.

Drawing on the success of last year’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco at Masada, which attracted thousands of opera lovers from here and abroad, the Israeli Opera, and the Jerusalem Municipality and Development Authority, with the support of the Tourism Ministry, decided to treat the capital to a variety of opera and quasi-opera productions this summer.

On June 2, the leading Italian orchestra Arena di Verona will give an opera gala in the Sultan’s Pool.

Some 30 chamber and vocal concerts will take place throughout 10 of the city’s historic sites and churches, including choral, vocal and chamber pieces. On June 6, David Stern will conduct a semi-staged production of Verdi’s rarely played opera Jerusalem at the Sultan’s Pool. The Israeli Opera will also be performing Verdi’s Aida at Masada in the first half of June, and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli will perform a gala concert at the ancient fortress off the Dead Sea on June 12.

Meseznikov noted the importance his ministry saw in cultural events such as the planned opera productions, “which enable people from all over the world to discover the quality of Israeli arts and culture.” He also spoke of the growth in tourism to Israel, as evidenced by the record 3.5 million tourists who came in 2010, and of the potential Jerusalem had as a powerful brand name to draw visitors to the city and country.

Barkat, in turn, mentioned the growth in the city’s culture budget, which he said would help continue to establish Jerusalem as one of the world’s culture capitals.

“There is no better place in the world to have an operatic production than Jerusalem, to hear the beautiful voices in the electrifying air of the city. It is an honor and great fun for us to host the festival here,” he told reporters.

When asked what his favorite opera was, Barkat admitted that he wasn’t much of an opera fan.

“But I love all beautiful music, like we heard today,” he said, adding that he’d definitely be attending the June productions planned in the city.