A huge production of La Traviata opens tonight in a vast expanse of desert near the Dead Sea. A lavish set has been installed at the foot of Masada, an ancient hill fortress and scene of a historic siege during the reign of the Roman emperor Herod.

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The production crew prepares for a full dress rehearsal of La Traviata at the foot off the ancient hill fortress of Masada, near the Dead SeaGetty

At night the Unesco World Heritage site is illuminated by giant video screens and neon-lit reproductions of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.

Dress rehearsals for the Tel Aviv Opera production of Giuseppe Verdi's most famous work were hampered by hot desert winds. Dancers struggled to keep their balance, while the singers had to cover their mouths with scarves to avoid swallowing the dust whirling around them.

The show has a cast of 700 performers and musicians, and 50,000 people are expected to watch the production, which runs from 12 to 17 June.

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Elena Mosuc and Celso Albelo perform during a dress rehearsalReuters
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Horses pull a carriage onto the set at the foot of Masada, an ancient Jewish mountaintop fortress near the Dead SeaReuters
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The set for La Traviata is installed in the desert near the Dead SeaReuters
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Performers on stage during a dress rehearsal of Giuseppe Verdi's opera "La Traviata" at the foothill of Masada, an ancient Jewish mountaintop fortress near the Dead Sea in southeast IsraelReuters
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Conductor Daniel Oren directs the orchestra during a dress rehearsal of La TraviataReuters
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The production crew prepares the stage for the rehearsal of La Traviata by Tel Aviv OperaGetty
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The production crew prepares for a dress rehearsal of La Traviata at the Dead Sea in Masada, IsraelGetty
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A performer makes her way onto the stage for a rehearsal of the productionReuters
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Singers and actors wait backstage during a full dress rehearsalAFP