The Israeli Opera does it again.

After two successful performances at the foot of Masada in the magnificent setting of the Judean Desert – Nabucco, in front of 42,000 spectators and last year Aida in front of 45,000 music lovers – this week it is the turn of Carmen by Georges Bizet, one of the most popular operas of all times.

The production, staged by director Giancarlo del Monaco, who is a frequent guest on our shores, and conducted by internationally acclaimed Israeli maestro Daniel Oren, renowned for his ability to ignite opera audiences, is sure to be a hit.

The sets are designed by William Orlandi; the costumes are designed by Jesus Ruiz; Carlos Vilan is responsible for the choreography; and Avi Yona Bueno (Bambi), known for his creativity, is the lighting designer.

The children’s Ankor choir, one of the country’s best, participates in the show, and the cast is the traditional mixture of international and Israeli singers, selected by the strictest maestro Oren. The lead part of carmen will be sang by soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera.

There will be three performances, on June 7, 9 and 10. As always, there will be a non-operatic concert of Idan Raichel as part of the festival (June 8.) Love, scorching passion and hate that knows no boundaries, fiery Spanish dances and seductive arias in a huge celebration performed by hundreds of participants – this is the Masada Opera Festival. It seems impossible to render a new interpretation of the eternal story of the free-spirited Gypsy Carmen, who sings about freedom as she falls in love with the soldier José and then with the toreador Escamillo. But Venezuelan tenor Jose Francisco Balestrini, who makes his Israeli Opera debut as Don José, has his own ideas about his character.

His repertoire includes such roles as Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana, Don José in Carmen, Radames in Aida, Calaf in Turandot, and Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, and he has performed in opera houses around the world.

As much as he loves the many roles he has played, Balestrini says that Don José is one of his favorite “because it is very dynamic. He is different in every act and undergoes significant changes as this tragic story develops. I enjoy participating in this production immensely,” said Balestrini in a phone interview before departing from Tel Aviv to the performance site. “As you know, my name is the same as that of my character, and I was told by the production managers not to even try to be anyone else, but just to be myself. So I delve into the music and enjoy it.”

Balestrini explains that according to the common vision, the operatic José is a person who is able to kill out of love, out of jealousy. “But in my vision, he is a totally different person. At the beginning of the opera he calls himself “an old Christian,” and this is where his inner conflict starts. Because by his birth he is a free person, and he yearns for freedom, of which he is deprived by the strict rules of society; in fact, by those of the religion. Don José is a person with his wings cut. He falls in love with Carmen, who for him is a symbol of freedom maybe even more than just a beautiful and seductive woman.

She has something that he doesn’t have. But again, according to his upbringing, Don José believes that a woman should belong to one man, while Carmen thinks differently. And this is what happens: Don José, who undergoes huge changes during the opera, becomes lost because he is unable to understand what is going on. He pleads with Carmen to tell him what freedom is about, but she says, ‘No, I cannot share my freedom only with you; it is for all.’ And Don José, not seeing any other way to free himself from the hell that he bears inside, kills her.”

For more information www.operamasada.com

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