The Red Sea Classical Festival made Eilat an international music center for three days this past weekend. Spearheaded by music director Valery Gergiev, the 300-strong Marinsky opera performers offered many moments to savor, while facing physical conditions that weren't necessarily optimal. The festival's highlights were its three grand evening concerts, performed on the huge hangar at Eilat's seaport. Complimenting them were several chamber concerts, featuring smaller groups of the Marinsky's musicians and held at the city's most prestigious hotels. The Marinsky opera musicians performed at their peak. With the magical, fervent conducting of Gergiev and the superb quality of his ensembles, one could not remain unmoved. However, the festival also demanded an unusual sacrifice of its patrons: the hangar's walls failed to insulate both thermally and acoustically, forcing the decidedly older audience to endure relative cold and be annoyed by unwelcome noises from the outside. However, Gergiev's readings were forceful and impressive enough to compensate for these minor discomforts. Offering a truly grand opening, the first evening featured Mahler's enormous second Symphony, allowing the audience to enjoy the tremendous vocal quality of the choir and the brilliance and clarity of the orchestra. The only minor downside was the overly vibrating soprano, but this was easily compensated by the warm, touching mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova. Gergiev avoided excessive mannerism and elicited refined dynamic changes from the choir. The second evening saw Verdi's "Nabucco", with several soloists and the full choir. Astonishingly enough, the choir maintained its lush, polished sonority despite the cold, and failed only on matters of diction: one must note their Italian sounded rather like Russian. Of the soloists, most were excellent. Singing the role of Abigail, Mlada Khudolei could probably be singled out, thanks to her dramatic appearance and beautiful, piercing voice. The only casting problem - unfortunately a severe one - was bass Sergei Alexashkin, singing the difficult role of Zaccaria. Suffering from a high fever and looking totally miserable, he sang until his voice almost broke, causing some moments of discomfort to his fellow musicians and audience alike. The third evening featured yet another Verdi opera, "Falstaff", which unfortunately could not be reviewed due to time constraints. Despite several mishaps, this was a triumph for Gergiev. With several exceptions, both in terms of repertoire and administration, this festival is on its way to regaining its position as one the region's leading classical music events.