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Washed away worries

Jerusalem Theater gets its own beach for Israel Festival opera

Jerusalemites flock to Lithuanian beachside libretto ‘Sun & Sea’ about holidaymakers’ concerns both mundane and deep, as well as the overarching threat of climate change

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

An Israeli audience at 'Sun&Sea,' the Lithuanian opera that was performed at the Israel Festival for five days in September 2022 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
An Israeli audience at 'Sun&Sea,' the Lithuanian opera that was performed at the Israel Festival for five days in September 2022 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

Landlocked Jerusalem got its very own beach this past week as “Sun & Sea,” one of the flagship performances of the Israel Festival, premiered on a temporarily sandy stage inside the Jerusalem Theater.

The beachside Lithuanian-created libretto opera was performed on the Sherover Theater stage, the Jerusalem Theater’s largest auditorium, with real sand, towels, bathers and beach toys scattered on the stage. If that wasn’t out-of-the-ordinary enough, audience members were not in their seats, but rather looked down on the happenings from four-meter-high catwalks built high above the stage.

The Israeli run of “Sun & Sea” lasted five days, with the opera running on an hour-long loop for three hours each evening, and patrons largely able to come and leave at will. Admission was free with preregistration, under the sponsorship of Wendy Fisher and the Kirsh Foundation.

Most of the bathers sprawled on towels and beach chairs were Lithuanian performers, singing in English with Hebrew subtitles displayed on screens.

Trance-like opera music accompanies lyrics representing holidaymakers’ internal monologues, with some of their concerns large and life-defining and others small and petty. An overarching theme threaded through the performance is that of climate change and how its threat is experienced by the somewhat apathetic beachgoers.

Interspersed among the singers were silent Israeli extras in bathing suits, adding a local feel to the staged beach scene that felt quite authentic to the audience above.

The award-winning piece created by Lithuanian artists Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė was first presented as part of the 2019 Venice Biennale, and has since toured globally.

It required an “insane effort to recreate” in Jerusalem, said festival artistic director Itay Mautner, adding that he and co-director Michal Vaknin looked all over the city for a place to hold it before settling on the Sherover stage.

In fact, Vaknin was one of the extras on the beach set Monday night, sitting on a towel in a blue-and-white striped bathing suit with two children in tow.

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