For almost his entire career, tenor Alberto Mizrahi has been referred to as "The Jewish Pavarotti" because of the similarity of his vocal production to that of the recently deceased tenor. Other commonalities include his abundant charm and robust physique.
The acclaimed cantor, who more than 25 years ago was a finalist in the Luciano Pavarotti Opera Competition at the Academy of Music, and in 1985 and 1987 stopped the show at two Chanukah concerts sponsored by Akiba Hebrew Academy, returns to the area Sunday, Oct. 7, at 4 p.m., to participate in the dedication of the newly refurbished Gratz College Auditorium in Melrose Park.
For almost three decades, Mizrahi has been bringing his thrilling interpretations of traditional chazzanut, Jewish art songs, Greek and Sephardic folk music, and operatic arias to synagogues and concert halls throughout the world. (Indeed, his first Philadelphia appearance was on the bimah of Beth Sholom Congregation, officiating at my wedding in 1981!)
Many, of course, recall his local performances with other cantors, recreating the international television special "Cantors: A Faith in Song," recorded in the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam.
Born in Athens, Greece, Mizrahi and his family came to the United States, settling in Cleveland, when the youngster was 5. Educated at yeshivas and conservatories in Cleveland, he enrolled in the H. L. Miller Cantorial School of the Jewish Theological Seminary in the late 1960s. Soon, he was singing tenor solos with the Zamir Chorale of New York, and began his cantorial career serving Conservative congregations in Albany, N.Y.; Cincinnati; White Plains, N.Y.; San Diego; Cleveland; and finally, Chicago, where he has been chazzan of Anshe Emet Synagogue for 18 years.
The leadership of his current congregation clearly understands that they must share Mizrahi's talents with Jewish communities throughout North America, Europe and Israel, since he and his music continue to be in great demand.
Recently, Mizrahi reflected on his long career as cantor, international recital artist, opera singer and recording star. "I didn't have a chazzan as a child, and my vision was to become the next Moshe Ganchoff or Moshe Koussevitzky" — major Ashkenazic cantorial stars of the 1950s and '60s, he said.
'People of Diversity'
But Mizrahi soon discovered the music of his Greek-Sephardic roots. "Now, I try to show that we are a people of incredible diversity, and I am blessed to be born Sephardic and trained Ashkenazic," he declared.
In addition to his traditional Ashkenazic cantorial offerings, he includes the music of many different styles in his appearances, with special emphasis on Greek and Sephardic music. His two most recent albums are "Our Song," a program of mostly Jewish folk song duets in seven languages with the legendary Theodore Bikel; and "Alberto's World," a collection of fusion selections recorded with leading experts on Middle Eastern percussion, keyboards and the oud — an Arabic stringed instrument.
"I believe that Eastern European chazzanut and Middle Eastern music are based on the same makamat — ancient Middle Eastern musical modes," Mizrahi explained.
Echoing the current zeitgeist, he stated, "for 10 years, I was a dinosaur, refusing to give in. But now I realize that we have to present music in the modern style. These works speak to the people."
His Gratz program will include selections from all of these diverse traditions. He will sing many solos, and will perform together with the Gratz College Chorale.
For concert information, call 215-635-7300, Ext. 154. Tickets also can be purchased at the door.