By Michele Alperin/JNS.org
This Mother’s Day, the music of opera singer Sharon Azrieli Perez will
integrate the varied threads that have made up the fabric of her life.
Click photo to download. Caption: Opera singer Sharon Azrieli Perez, pictured here performing in “Turandot” in March 2008, will perform this Mother’s Day at the 92nd Street Y in New York. Credit: Courtesy Sharon Azrieli Perez.
Perez, in a Mother’s Day concert May 12 at the 92nd Street Y in New York
City, will weave a musical experience that brings together intimations of
Israeli independence, Giuseppe Verdi’s use of Jewish melodies, medieval Ladino
music, and modern Jewish show music. These musical elements are particularly
personal for Perez, whose Juilliard education has led her to an opera career,
cantorial work at two synagogues, and musical detective work for her doctoral
Perez’s father, David Azrieli, was an entrepreneur and architect whose
family died in the Auschwitz concentration camp. She traces her early
familiarity with Israeli folk songs to her father’s involvement in the Israeli
War of Independence in 1948, and on Mother’s Day she will perform unique piano
arrangements of songs of Israeli pioneers, or “halutzim,” commissioned from
famous Jewish composers like Kurt Weill, Aaron Copland, and Paul Dessau before Israel
“They were simple songs and yet they are elevated to art songs because of
these arrangements,” Perez tells JNS.org.
Perez will also be drawing on her doctoral musical research on Jewish
themes in the work of Verdi, which she says she first noticed when singing
“Lidera Me” in the Verdi requiem with the New West Symphony in Los Angeles
eight or nine years ago.
“I remember thinking as I was singing that this was the most gorgeous
music in the world,” Perez says. “Then I thought: wait a minute; this sounds
very Jewish to me.”
When Perez checked the score, she noticed that Verdi had used two of the
seven cantorial modes that form the basis of Jewish prayer.
As she continued her research, Perez found fragments of Jewish prayer
modes in several Verdi operas, but in her upcoming Mother’s Day concert, she
will share a different kind of Jewish melody.
“Verdi borrowed a fantasically beautiful Ladino song from the tenth
century,” she says. “He stole this melody and used it in ‘La Traviata.’” To
illustrate this, she will sing the Ladino “Adio Querida” and Verdi’s “Addio Del
Passato” one after the other.
Perez will also be singing two opera arias; one from “La Juive,” a 19th-century
French opera by Fromental Halévy, and another based on the story of Salome from
“Herodiade” by Jules Massenet. The concert will end with a medley from Leonard
Bernstein’s “West Side Story.”
Perez has performed in venues
the Israel Chamber Orchestra, to the Yiddish Theatre of Montreal, to opera and
concert stages around the world. Her two favorite roles were Susanna in the
“Marriage of Figaro,” which she calls “one of the most beautiful,
psychologically clever, and funny operas,” at the Sarasota Opera, and covering
for Mirella Freni at rehearsals for her farewell performance of “Adriana Lecouvreur”
at the Paris Opera.