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The stars illuminating the velvet black night gaze down on the blue skull cap, or kippah, of the T-shirted conductor. Suddenly, he halts the dress rehearsal.
The opera holds its breath. Maestro Daniel Oren’s throat still hurts and the soft desert breeze pricks the back of his neck. Then the overture continues, smoothing his nerves. Verdi’s "Nabucco," under Masada — one of the Jews' most revered historic sites — rolls on into the night.
Oren, an Israeli maestro, is closing a circle in life.
Twenty five years ago, he conducted "Nabucco" for the inaugural season of the Israeli Opera.
Now, he's leading that same opera under Masada, the mountain fortress where hundreds of Jewish rebels are believed to have killed themselves in the 1st century rather than surrender to the Romans.
Oren's outstretched hand motions the ascent to the stage of seven burning torches, symbolizing the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Yellow light scorches the folds of Masada.
In Italy, where Oren lives, the opera's "Va Pensiero" is considered an anthem of freedom. In the country where he was born, it evokes a different emotion. As an observant Jew, Oren prays every day to return to Jerusalem.
Horses, camels, chariots, soldiers, slaves, toyal family and high priests take their cue from the skipping baton in Oren's right hand.