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Coloratura Kibbutznik?

October 25, 2007 By:
Cantor David F. Tilman, JE Feature
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Chen Reiss
Chen Reiss, Israeli-born and educated lyric soprano, made a stunning and almost "electric" impression in her debut performance with the Philadelphia Opera Company in Verdi's masterpiece, "Rigoletto."

Playing the role of Gilda, daughter to the hunchback court jester Rigoletto, Reiss brought her cool and clear soprano to the stage of the Academy of Music for several performances, possibly the best surprise of this season's new production.

She also brought to Philadelphia a significant résumé of performances in concert halls and opera centers throughout Europe, the United States and her native Israel, where she has been a frequent performer with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta. Five years ago, she made her Carnegie Hall debut singing the demanding soprano solo in the Mahler "Symphony No. 8," referred to as the "Symphony of a Thousand," reflective of the overwhelming number of singers and players required to mount this work.

On one English Web site, her voice is described as being of small size, so who had influenced her understanding and characterization of Gilda?

"Vocal role models change from part to part," she wrote via e-mail. "Each singer has qualities that are better used in some parts than others. In the case of Gilda, there are Edita Gruberova, Renata Scotto and Anna Moffo."

The first of these great sopranos sang coloratura, rapid and florid passages of many notes, with great skill and precision, a quality that Reiss clearly brings to her interpretation.

Gilda is pure and innocent, and she becomes an easy victim of the sinister and lecherous Duke. Reiss' gentle vocal style is, therefore, perfectly suited for this role.

The repertoire page of her own Web site includes "Israeli selections." Which Israeli composers did she enjoy singing?

"In my recitals, I try to include a few Israeli songs by Alexander Argov, Naomi Shemer or Mordechai Zeira. I like the songs that were written in the '50s and the '60s, mostly because of the texts, which were very Zionistic and idealistic," she explained.

Although born many years after this period, she learned about "the spirit of building a new country" from her grandparents and parents.

During her years of required military service in the Israel Defense Force, Reiss sang solos with the IDF Orchestra, performing mostly Israeli music for soldiers, diplomats and government leaders. She says that she feels a strong connection to God, to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel.

Is there cantorial music in her future?

Her answer was a qualified "no."

"Perhaps," she responded, "I will discover chazzanut music later in my life."

· · ·

The Prince Theater recently presented the world premiere of the theatrical work "A Night in the Old Marketplace," with an original score by Frank London, composer, scholar, klezmer trumpet virtuoso, and founding member of both the Klezmer Conservatory Band and the Klezmatics.

His use of traditional synagogue modes, especially the "Ahavah Rabbah" scale, used by Ashkenazic cantors for generations in Shabbat services, was apparent in almost every song. London effectively merged these synagogue modes to traditional European folk rhythms and American swing styles.

The instrumental ensemble that accompanied the show from the stage was comprised of accordion, keyboard, tuba, guitar and percussion. The star of the band was the Russian accordionist Lidia Kaminska, whose playing was vital -- and beautiful.

The entire group meticulously replicated the unique Klezmatics sound, of which composer London's music has been such an integral component for so many years.

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