Must-See Summer Festivals in Israel

Opera, Jazz, Klezmer and More On Tap in 2012

Five Festivals: The annual Dead Sea opera festival is only one of the summer festivals going on across Israel in 2012.
courtesy of masada dead sea opera festival
Five Festivals: The annual Dead Sea opera festival is only one of the summer festivals going on across Israel in 2012.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 09, 2012, issue of May 11, 2012.
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Entrance to the International Klezmer Festival concerts is free, thanks to national and local government funding. The festival will begin on August 20 and run until August 25 in central Safed, with shows from 1 p.m. daily. Performances are open to all. There are also jam sessions where members of the general public can play. The festival will be followed by “Clarinet and Klezmer in the Galilee,” a seminar and master class given by prominent Israeli klezmer musician Giora Feidman.

Red Sea Jazz Festival

Jazz enthusiasts can catch 75-minute performances each day of the Red Sea Jazz Festival (www.redseajazzeilat.com.) The four-day event, which starts on July 30, presents some 32 performances by 11 international and 10 local groups, playing in various indoor and outdoor locations in the resort city of Eilat. Ticket prices have not yet been set. Stages are erected in some of the most stunning locations in the resort city.

“For me, it was all about the chance to bring together different things I love,” said Micha Grin, a Londoner who attended last year’s festival. “I got to do water sports during the day, enjoy kosher dining out, which I wouldn’t at a music festival outside Israel, and take advantage of the great performances.”

At nearly all performances, audiences have a view of the Red Sea as they enjoy the music. “We really try to use the surroundings to contribute to the atmosphere of the event,” said festival spokesman Yaron Cohen.

Red Sea Jazz, which is in its 26th year, last year began running a winter festival, as well.

Jerusalem Light Festival

From June 6 to 14, Jerusalem’s Old City walls will turn into giant screens for cutting-edge art created from light. The Jerusalem Light Festival (www.lightinjerusalem.org.il) will feature light-themed installations from around the world. Some will be static; others will be animations designed to bring a smile to tourists’ faces. For example, the star of last year’s festival was “Meir,” a 10-foot projection who was constantly trying to climb the city walls.

In addition to light installations, the festival will feature shows and performances from around the world, which will take place at outdoor venues across the Old City from nightfall until the early hours of the morning. Most of the events are free; others cost about $20. One of the biggest acts will be Mayumana, the massively successful Israeli dance act that has been widely compared to Stomp, Cirque de Soleil and De La Guarda. The troupe blends visual arts, dance and rhythm into its acts and has performed for more than 5 million people since its formation in 1996.

Not only does the festival create a fun experience for visitors, it also helps the Jerusalem Municipality solve a serious problem: The Old City is simply not large enough to contain increasing pedestrian traffic during peak season. “We hope to get 10 million tourists a year visiting Jerusalem within 10 years, but the Old City is small,” said Elad Kandel, festival producer and municipal tourism official. “By lighting it up, we enable it able to receive visitors for more hours of the day and increase its capacity.”

The Masada Dead Sea Opera Festival

You cannot find a much grander setting for performances than the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada. From June 7 to 12, opera enthusiasts will gather there for the third annual Masada Dead Sea Opera Festival (www.carmen-at-masada.com). The prices vary based on the festival package chosen.

The centerpiece will be Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,” in which a free-spirited gypsy, Carmen, sings about freedom as she falls in love with the soldier José and then with Escamillo, the toreador.

The opera is led by Israel Opera conductor Daniel Oren and stars Georigian mezzo soprano Anita Rachvelishvili. The production involves 2,500 people, 750 of whom will perform onstage. The set requires some 30 tons of equipment to be flown in from abroad.

In addition to “Carmen,” festivalgoers can enjoy performances in a variety of musical styles at Masada, including appearances by Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel. The musician is renowned for blending different genres, from classical to Sephardic, in his Idan Raichel Project.

Hanna Munits, director of the Israel Opera, said that the festival, which last year drew 50,000 visitors, places Israel “on the world map of operatic outdoor summer festivals.”


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