Dark Catholic imagery was spliced with blood, guts and guns as Madonna burst onto the stage at Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium late on Thursday to kick off her hotly-anticipated MDNA world tour of some 30 countries.
The portentous tolling of a church bell opens the first set with bare-chested monks in burgundy robes swinging a giant golden censer in front of a giant red cross.
A plainchant melody turns into a Hebrew prayer as monks rise out of the floor, mixing Jewish and Catholic imagery as the Material Girl rises in silhoutte, shattering the back screen as she launches into “Girl Gone Wild.”
Guns feature heavily in the next two numbers, “Revolver” and “Gang Bang” with the Queen of Pop and her dancers repeatedly ‘firing’ into the audience with a variety of guns, as huge images of empty bullet casings fall to the ground.
“Bang bang, shot you dead, shot my lover in the head,” she sings as brains splat onto the back screen behind her in a number which ends with her shooting down one of the dancers and flinging the gun onto the floor.
Several songs later, the tone changes as the singer nicknamed Madge transforms into a red-and-white clad majorette, with her signature conical bra making an appearance in “Vogue,” a monochrome number which blurs the gender lines.
This time, it appears as a cage-like bustier over a white shirt complete with black tie and trousers: office-wear -- Madonna style.
In between sets, she addresses the audience, urging Israelis to end the conflict and seek peace.
“I chose to start my world tour in Israel for a very specific and important reason,” she said, to wild applause and cheering.
“You can’t be a fan of mine and not want peace in the world,” she said. “We all bleed the same color.”
“If we can all rise above our egos and our titles and the names of our countries and our religions, and treat everyone around us with dignity and respect, then we are on the road to peace.
“If there is peace here in the Middle East, there can be peace in the whole world.”
Excited fans were already pouring through the gates when they opened some four hours before the 9:45 pm (1845 GMT) start, with all 32,000 tickets sold out.
Turning heads at one of the main entrances was 41-year-old Cocoa Chandelier. Six-feet tall -- “without the heels” -- and with a bouffant easily adding another foot, she said she had never missed a single of Madonna’s concerts.
“It’s quite appropriate that it’s starting here in Israel. She has adopted this culture and religion,” Chandelier told AFP, dressed in copious quantities of fluorescent plastic beads and earrings to match.
“That’s why we’ve come all the way from Hawaii -- to support her.”
Israeli fan Carmit Zindani, 32, beamed: “There is simply nothing bigger than Madonna starting her world tour here in the Holy Land. She is one of us.”
“She’s a real queen, this is very exciting,” said Roma Ryabchikov, a 26-year-old lawyer who flew in specially from Moscow.
The eye-popping extravaganza marked the start of the 53-year-old Queen of Pop’s ninth world tour and her first since her “Sticky and Sweet” outing in 2008/2009.
From Israel, she is to move on to Abu Dhabi and then to Europe and the Americas before ending in early 2013 in Australia, where she has not performed in more than 20 years.
Kicking off her latest tour in Israel was a natural choice for the Catholic-born singer, who over the past decade has become deeply involved in the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah.
Since then, she has been back to the Jewish state several times, on both public and private visits, last performing here in 2009.
Officials said her two older children -- 15-year-old Lourdes, and 12-year-old Rocco -- would also take part in the show.
“This show is epic and bigger than anything she’s done before. There are many more costume changes. We’re taking 700 shoes on the road,” her costume designer and stylist Arianne Phillips told the WWD website.
“Madonna changes outfits seven or eight times and the dancers change 10 to 15 times, depending on the dancer,” she said.
Although all 32,000 tickets were completely sold out, a day ahead of the performance, the diminutive diva briefly met with members of the Palestinian Israeli Peace NGO Forum and handed them 600 tickets.
Since she arrived in Israel late on Friday on an El Al flight from New York, Madonna has reportedly spent much of time rehearsing, praying or attending Kabbalah events.
Her partner Brahim Zaibat, a French-Algerian model in his 20s, also flew in with her, as did her four children, Lourdes, Rocco, David and Mercy, with pictures of them enjoying the beach splashed across the newspapers.
More than 4,000 fans have flown into Israel to attend the concert, with each paying from $62 (50 euros) for a ticket up to $620 for a VIP package.
The Tel Aviv show is reported to have cost $3.9 million (3.1 million euros).
As for the outfits, Madonna has signed up a list of designers including Jean Paul Gaultier, Jeremy Scott, Alexander Wang, Dolce & Gabbana, Fausto Puglisi and J Brand.
She was also due to wear Prada and Miu Miu shoes, as well as footwear and lingerie from her Truth or Dare line.