With new light show, 2,000-year-old Masada gets makeover fit for a millennial

50-minute ‘cultural performance’ is scored by Shlomo Gronich and performed by local artists, including Harel Skaat and Liraz Charhi

A scene from the newly launched updated Masada sound and light show, 'From Sunset to Sunrise.' (Breeze Creative)
A scene from the newly launched updated Masada sound and light show, 'From Sunset to Sunrise.' (Breeze Creative)

On Tuesday night, Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) unveiled a new nocturnal audio-visual show at Masada National Park, replacing a light and sound show that had taken up residency at the UNESCO World Heritage site for the past 30 years.

The revitalized project, titled “From Sunset to Sunrise,” tells the same basic story of Masada and the invasion of the Roman soldiers who would eventually breach the 2,000-year-old fortress through construction of a giant ramp. But is now told using advanced technologies with the goal of attracting younger audiences to the park.

“The old one was too old for the new generation,” said Director of the INPA Shaul Goldstein during an interview at a reception held just minutes before the show’s premiere. “We decided we needed to get something that’s more accurate and appealing to the new generation.”

Masada is Israel’s most popular national park, and welcomes upwards of a million visitors from around the world each year. This new project, which has been three years in the making and cost NIS 10 million (USD 2.7 million) to see through from concept to finished product, aims to keep the eyes of that global audience interested in the park’s ancient history.

Shaul Goldstein, the director of Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is pictured outside the open-air auditorium at Masada ahead of the premiere of ‘From Sunset to Sunrise’ on March 19, 2019. (Johanna Chisholm/Times of Israel)

Goldstein said he is “immensely proud” of the final product, which weaves 4K video, advanced lighting and video mapping — a new technology that was introduced to the show this year — onto the 458-meter high cliffs of Mount Masada.

“This is huge, and it’s the screen,” he said while gesturing back towards Masada’s western face. “I think this combination of technology and setting ultimately gives the story a real authenticity.”

A moment later one of the producers for the show arrived to shake Goldstein’s hand and congratulate him on the night’s success.

“They’re the real creative force behind this,” said Goldstein. He described how the company contracted to create the new show, Breeze Creative, had won the bid three years earlier. They were chosen, he said, not only for their technological capabilities and the connection they felt to the mountain’s story, but also for their commitment to being punctual in their delivery.

“They are very precise,” he said. “Some of them are ex-Israeli air forces, so they are very talented, but also very pragmatic.”

A scene from the newly launched updated Masada sound and light show, ‘From Sunset to Sunrise.’ (Breeze Creative)

The 50-minute production, which Goldstein chose to characterize as a “cultural performance” rather than just an audio-visual show, is scored by Shlomo Gronich and is performed by local artists, including Harel Skaat and Liraz Charhi.

Similar to the previous version, this technologically updated show still tells the widely accepted tale (entirely supported by the archaeology) of how all but five of the 967 Jewish heroes residing in the fortress of Masada decided to take their own lives and die as free men rather than be enslaved by Emperor Vespasian’s Roman forces.

Goldstein acknowledged that part of the difficulty in telling this specific story in a new way was to ensure its values were not lost through special effects.

“Masada is the deepest representation of core values and I think we really captured that,” said Goldstein.

People tour Mount Masada, near the Dead Sea in southern Israel, on July 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The show was met with a warm reception, in an audience made up of mostly media and tourism figures.

“I thought it was just wonderful,” said Doris Hiffawi, who runs a small homestay and storytelling company out of her home in Jaffa. She hadn’t been to Masada since a school trip in primary school, so she was unable to compare it to the older version.

Though most seemed happy with the evening’s final display, there were some in the crowd that yearned for the show’s older, more “authentic” offerings.

Ravik Zerem, a tour guide with over three decades of experience, has dedicated most of the storage on his 1TB smartphone with information on the archaeological site — including the entire 1981 “Masada” mini series starring Peter O’Toole. He said that while he was impressed with the technological advancements on display, he still missed something from the show of 30 years ago.

“There was just something more authentic about the older one. They told more of the mountain’s story,” he said. But yes, he did still plan to take tour groups to the new show despite his own personal feelings about the updated version.

“It was really good. And the young people will like it,” said Zerem.

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