History with soul

I'm singing in a benefit concert on September 18 at the Williamsburg Library Theatre for the Sderot Recreation Center in Israel, as part of Nancy and Philip Burstein's Bnei Mitzvot project. Among the pieces I'll perform are songs by Rami Bar-Niv from his song cycle Longing for My Father, which are set to poems by Yaakov Barzilai. Barzilai was a Holocaust survivor whose father died in the Holocaust, and the cycle is about his experiences with that loss.

Working on these pieces made me realize even more deeply that songs and repertoire focused on certain periods of history (especially works based on first-hand accounts) are important because they provide data with a soul, so to speak. It's one thing to read about historical events, in a merely factual way, through history books. It's an altogether different experience to hear about those events through someone's personal story and poetry; that personal effect is enhanced when it's expressed to the audience through an artistic medium that uses the unamplified, vulnerable human voice.

Such storytelling opens the door to learn about, and begin to discuss, difficult topics and periods in history in a way that makes people feel safer talking openly about topics one may not normally address.

For more information about the benefit concert and the Sderot Recreation Center, click on the image below:

Sept 18 benefit concert info.jpg

Heartbreak, high notes, and more! (or, Road to recital, part 2)


I wrote last week about the recital I'm giving in Tel Aviv with Dan Deutsch on Saturday, March 7, and I'm excited to tell you all a bit about some of the pieces on my program, and what they mean to me.

(A couple of notes:  If you don't want to know in advance what some of the pieces on my recital program will be, then this blog post is full of spoilers.  Also, if you do want to know what the full program will be, and you happen to be in Tel Aviv on March 7, then come to the Felicja Blumental Music Center and you'll find out.). :)

Una voce poco fa (from Il Barbiere di Siviglia, by Rossini) - there aren't many better ways to start off a recital, than with one of the most delicious arias in the repertoire.  Rosina, the teenage protagonist of the opera, has just fallen in love with the mysterious Lindoro, and she swears he will be hers.  She then goes on to say that she is sweet, respectful, obedient, loving, BUT (that's in capital letters) if anyone gets in her way, she will be a viper!

You can see why I love singing that aria so much.

I'll also sing a song by Schubert, but it takes a much different, and darker, tone.  His song Sehnsucht (D. 516) is written with text by Mayrhofer, who frequently wrote poems about alienation.  In Sehnsucht, he contrasts those feelings of alienation with images of spring.  In Schubert's setting of the poem, those themes are heightened and more starkly contrasted.

Pace non trovo - few songs capture the volatile, conflicting and contrasting feelings of romantic love the way Liszt's setting of Petrarch's sonnet does.  Not surprisingly, this song is also one of the most extreme and operatic of the art song repertoire. The whole song describes love in opposites.  "I find no peace, but I am not inclined to war. ... I burn, yet I'm turned into ice. ... I fly to heaven, and yet I lie on the ground."  (Liszt's and Petrarch's tendencies to write in an extreme way--musically and poetically--go so well together, that if it weren't for the fact that they lived about 500 years apart, I would have said they were a great songwriting team.)

Debussy's group of songs, Ariettes Oubliées, has a special place in my heart.  This isn't only because his settings of Paul Verlaine's poems are second-to-none.  It is mainly because each of these songs paint unbearably vulnerable scenarios, whether about love, desperation, or wonder.

Israeli songs - Israeli songs are important to me since they've been a major part of me since I've been growing up.  For this reason, and also because the pairing of music and poetry in Israeli songs is to-die-for and should be heard even more frequently in concert, programming them as much as possible is a priority to me.

At the end of the concert, I'll be performing an aria that's new to me!  I won't give it away now, but I can promise that it will have heartache and high-notes!  (That's as potent a combination as any I know!)

I'm looking forward to even more recital prep and talk in the coming days, as well as the concert itself, of course!

Road to recital, part 1

In general, and particularly as I'm preparing my upcoming concert in Tel Aviv on March 7, one fundamental concept I keep coming back to is that singing departs from speech.  This is a crucial foundation, from a singing technique standpoint--rather than merely trying to manipulate my voice to creating sounds, I am singing all throughout my range from the foundation of my natural voice. (Of course, this is something I'm constantly working at, and for this reason, my singing warmups and practice sessions all start with simply speaking.) 

Most importantly, however, the concept of singing departing from speech doesn't merely inform my approach to technique, but also to what I have to say when I sing for an audience.  I believe expressing ourselves through phonation is one of the most fundamental needs many human beings have (whether speaking, singing, yelling, what-have-you.)  When I sing the texts that any of the brilliant poets or librettists have written (whether Verlaine, Sterbini, Goethe, or anyone else), I focus on whether I'm doing it from the perspective of saying the text honestly, as it means to me.  While this is a thrilling adventure, it can also be scary because it requires breaking away from trying to sing it "like insert-brilliant-singer's-name-here".  To sing a song the way someone else did it might seem safe, because that tried-and-true method worked for that particular artist.  That does not mean, however, that imitating that artist, no matter how brilliant she may be, would be healthy for my voice, and it likely wouldn't result in my being able to express myself honestly.  If I were to sing, taking the way I naturally speak as my point of departure, though, then it would open up the most vulnerable and honest performance from me possible, and this is the point of performing live for an audience.

On this note (no pun intended!), I'm thrilled to announce my upcoming concert in Tel Aviv this March, with more concerts TBA!  In no other category of performance (whether opera, musical theatre, or anything else) is the challenge of always trying to get the most honest performance out of myself more pertinent.  That is because, instead of playing one character over several hours, 1.  My recital programs are potpourris of various songs and arias which I have handpicked (along with the linguistic and stylistic challenges that come with them!).  Also, 2. these pieces have all resonated with me on some level, making my selection of them even more personal.

I will keep you posted about the road to getting this concert off the ground, and if you're in Tel Aviv, I hope to see you on March 7th for beautiful (honest!) music-making!

Arts and war

I wrote a few words I wanted to share with my audience at my concert tomorrow, to include in my program, and I realized I wanted to share them here as well:

I planned this program for a concert scheduled to take place at the beginning of this month in Tel Aviv, Israel. When I was planning it, there was no way I could know that I would perform it in the midst of a war.

During the nearly two-and-a-half-month period I was in Israel, sirens frequently sounded, warning all of us to seek shelter from the rockets being fired from the Gaza Strip. In fact, one of the missiles we took shelter from was intercepted by the Iron Dome rocket defense system right above the apartment building I was staying in, creating a loud explosion overhead.

There wasn't (and still isn't) anyone in Israel who isn't personally affected by the war. My cousin was drafted to active military service, as were the brother of one of my friends and the husband of another. Despite all this, many arts events of all kinds went on as scheduled in Israel, including my concert.

This raises the question: Why do we care about something so seemingly frivolous as the performing arts during a time in which our safety is threatened?

The answer is that we still care because the arts are not frivolous at all. Opera, the art form I have chosen to devote myself to as a profession, is unique in that it is the only one in which you get to experience the emotional and physical power of the unamplified human voice—whether you are singing yourself or whether you are sitting in the audience. Without anything to alter the voice—such as microphones and amplifiers—the singer is uniquely exposed and the audience deeply engaged.

During the war, we all were constantly exposed to the ways in which people could be at their most inhumane, both through hearing the booms of intercepted missiles and from watching the news on TV. During a time such that, it seemed more crucial than ever to experience the humanity we all share—in this instance, through the combination of the power and vulnerability of the human voice.

With all this in mind, we present tonight's concert to you in the hope that these masterpieces touch your heart and renew your spirit.