Hebrew opera takes on Israeli-Palestinian conflict at French festival
It features an Israeli prime minister, Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike, a hit squad and a Shin Beth spy chief. But this is not another story on the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but an opera unusually with a libretto in Hebrew, the official language of Israel.
"The Sleeping Thousand", an opera by Israeli composer Adam Maor with the libretto by Yonatan Levy, was premiered at the prestigious Aix-en-Provence Opera Festival in southern France this month.
"This opera speaks of oppression and above all, its impact on the oppressor," Maor said.
"While I'm not trying to campaign through my art, it is definitely a political opera which raises questions about freedom," he added.
The chamber opera, which lasts one hour, won critical praise, with the Le Monde daily saying Maor and Levy had "created a singular universe – one which is seductive and provocative and mixes a political fable, philosophical tale and a fictional parable – around the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict".
Maor is hugely critical of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians and spent two years behind bars for refusing to do his compulsory military service in protest at the "immorality of the occupation" of the Palestinian territories.
In the opera, which inhabits a world between science fiction and fantasy, a thousand Palestinian prisoners begin a hunger strike generating widespread media interest. The Israeli government decides to sedate them "so that the world can move on to something else". "It works very well until the day when the Israelis start having nightmares and wake up in the night speaking Arabic," explained Maor, 36. One day, the government concludes that the Palestinians were seeking to sabotage Israeli dreams.
"They are tunnelling into the world of Jewish dreams and carrying out terror attacks!" declares an aide to the prime minister in the opera. The prime minister then decides to send in the aide as a spy in Palestinian garb to kill them.
The different characters, all of them Israelis, are taken on by four singers. And at the back of the stage are the "sleeping" Palestinians, all played by volunteers lying on beds. Referring to his own stint in jail, Maor said: "I chose to go to prison, whereas they (the Palestinians) didn't."
Thousands of Palestinians are held by Israel, some without charge under so-called administrative detention orders. They often go on hunger strike to highlight their plight. Israel insists such detentions are necessary to punish criminals who carried out or planned violent acts, and ensure the Jewish state's security. (AFP)