When you think of Jerusalem, opera is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, maybe this connection is not as far- fetched as it seems. In this city three thousand years ago King David built his palace. It’s said that he hung a harp (lyre) above his bed and when midnight arrived and the north wind blew upon the instrument, its strings vibrated and music would ring forth. Have no doubt, here the sounds of music live on and their 2011 International Opera Festival which the city celebrated this past June is proof positive!
Until you can get to Jerusalem for your music, be sure to check out American Friends of Israel Philharmonic Orchestra’s schedule at 122 E. 42nd St., NYC, www.afipo.org, 212-697-2949. For information on their annual New York benefit and Gala at Carnegie Hall, please contact Suzanne K. Ponsot @ 212-697-2949. The Salute to Israel Parade happens in New York City each June, www.salutetoisrael.com. The “Live from Jerusalem Concert” film will be shown in New York theaters on July 28 at 7pm. Zubin Mehta will conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Jerusalem; this is a special one-night event featuring Renee Fleming and honoring the legacy of the great American tenor, Richard Tucker. For theater information and tickets, please go to www.afipo.org/events.
Driving from the airport to the city, the view is of earth-colored fields dotted with low shrubs. Then, in the distance, one can glimpse the City of David – Jerusalem. You’ll see a skyline filled with spires piercing the sky – minarets, churches, mosques and temples that, until now, perhaps you’ve only seen in photographs.
Jerusalem is the largest city in the country – a city holy to three religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, this is an exhilarating meeting of ancient and modern – where one retraces the steps of pilgrims who have journeyed here for thousands of years, where you find ancient and biblical contrasting with modern, hip, of the moment – and, somehow, it all creates a harmonious balance. In short, it is a city unique in the world. And, for a heartstopping experience, one evening plan to visit Mt. Scopus. You’ll have an iconic, panoramic view of the Old City at twilight. The singular Jerusalem light will be golden and pink and, inevitably, the City of David will begin to weave its special spell – a hard-to-define “something” that turns everything into a truly memorable experience.
In early June, this city celebrates Jerusalem Day, recognizing the reunification of Jerusalem; 44 years ago there was barbed wire dividing this city and today it is reunited. There will be a feeling of exuberance, joy and abandon in the air. Visit the Western Wall, a remnant of the holy temple and the most sacred structure of the Jewish people. There you’ll find serene reverence, the space divided with men on one side, women on the other, all in prayer. At times on this day, the quiet will inevitably be pierced by loud, raucous singing. You’ll see youths, arms intertwined, belting out the words to the Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem. Maybe one of the kids will find a chair and hoist it high with a pretty teenage girl holding on for dear life as she’s twirled around and the group will dance and sing Evenu Shalom Aleichem. It’s celebration time!
Spanning the first twelve days in June, this happy mood continues as some of Jerusalem’s most storied venues come alive with music. Imagine attending a gala operatic concert in a settling that is spellbinding – the Sultan’s Pools. This ancient site is in the valley of Hinnom beneath the west side of Mt. Zion, and was part of the water supply of Jerusalem during the Roman period. What an enchanting way to experience a concert Colored lights play on ancient columns bordering the pool and creating an otherworldly atmosphere as an orchestra of 100 led by Giuliano Carella will perform famous opera favorites. To hear a bit of this year’s concert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wZkJ8A20etM&feature=player_embedded
During this special time in Jerusalem, you may attend several other concerts. Be sure to visited the Tower of David Museum. This complex is located at the Old City’s Jaffa Gate; it spans the centuries and its very stones are part of this city’s living history. The 500-year-old walls are part of the Turkish citadel and its name comes from a tower so massive that early Jerusalemites ascribed it to their great King David although the builder was actually the much-maligned King Herod. The concert room here is intimate, chairs set up just a few feet from the performers. After the concert, you’ll have the chance to meet and mingle with the singers and take photos, making this experience even more memorable.
Another venue for splendid concerts is the Austrian Hospice located in the Old City directly across from the Via Dolorosa.This interesting venue was officially opened in 1863 and served as the residence of the Austrian Consul as well as a protective refuge for Catholics and Ashkenazi Jews. In 1987, after years as a lively pilgrim operation, the building was completely renovated and was officially reopened in March, 1988. The room where the concert is held is just off the Hospice garden. If the evening is warm – and it typically is – its floor to ceiling windows will be flung open to catch the occasional breeze. If it happens to coincide with the muezzin’s Adhan – the Islamic call to prayer (there’s a minaret very nearby) rather than close the windows, it would be well to wait till the muezzin has finished since his call to prayer is a beautiful and exotic concert of its very own. When the concert is over, climb the stairs to the roof and enjoy perhaps the very best view of the Old City, an unforgettable sight and not to be missed.
One of the true highlights of the International Opera Festival is seeing an opera in a setting unrivaled anywhere in the world – in the shadows of Masada in the Judean desert! You will journey through Arad to the lowest place on earth, maneuvering winding roads on the banks of the Dead Sea towards Masada. The striking landscape of the desert is dun-colored and desolate with barren hills, caves, mountain-high dunes, deep shadows, Bedouin villages and even a kibbutz. Mark your calendars because in 2012, Carmen at Masada will be presented from June 7-10. Imagine the color, flash and sheer excitement of “Carmen” presented at one of the world’s most dramatic venues! Think I’ll make my reservation right now. You can, too, at www.carmen-at-masada.com
Masada was the last bastion of Jewish freedom fighters that battled the Romans. It is a symbol of humanity’s continuous struggle for freedom from oppression and as of 2001 it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. No opera house could possibly compete with the simple beauty of this great outdoors and starry night sky. Masada, as the backdrop for a classic opera is pure magic.
Yerushalayim Shel Zahav, “Jerusalem of Gold,” is a beloved Israeli song. In it one sings “The mountain air is clear as wine and….is carried… with the sound of bells.” In the chorus the words are “Behold, I am a violin for all your songs.” From the ancient strains of David’s lyre up to today’s popular folk song, music rings forth. Sounds of music in Jerusalem? Of course!
Flights to Tel Aviv with connections to Jerusalem take approximately 8 ½ hours. Airlines that will get you there:
U.S. Airways, British Air, Lot Polish Air and Jet Airways