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No matter that there were no fleets of acrobats, no costumed dancers, no flamethrowers or even so much as a strobe light like there were during Rita's fabled multimillion dollar Tel Aviv production last summer. Even a Rita concert with only a handful of musicians and a spare stage, as was the case Saturday night in Washington, DC, is an experience to be witnessed.
The audience - the vast majority of which was Israeli - fell in love with Rita all over again as she displayed her dizzying array of musical styles, from European opera to Persian folk to American rock. The performance, the grand finale of the Washington Jewish Music Festival and the midpoint of her North American tour (with other stops in Los Angeles and Canada), proved that the diva is still at the peak of her career. And after more than 20 years, that's no small feat.
After parting ways with her record company Helicon on bitter terms, Rita is out on her own for the first time in a long time. Two months ago, she and her husband Rami Kleinstein sued Helicon for NIS 4 million, claiming that they were cheated out of profits from the sales of their recordings. Based on fan reactions to her latest tour, it's clear she has little to worry about.
The Israeli pop star interrupted herself mid-song to receive flowers from several intrepid audience members who had made their way to the stage of the George Washington University auditorium in which she was performing. She literally embraced her fans, stepping down to the orchestra seats and waltzing up the aisle as far as the first mezzanine section. Along the way, the 45-year-old award-winning singer tossed kisses, shared hugs, even posed for photos, clearly loving every minute of it.
Indeed, much of a Rita concert is about absorbing her personality, whose theatrics add emotion to every line and expression to every glance. Depending on your perspective, the singer who goes only by her first name seems either a strutting queen holding court or a fascinating artiste oozing exoticism; either way, it's hard not to enjoy the show.
As enamored fans screamed that she is the best, Rita, having returned to the stage, shouted back, "You're the best. I'm just a reflection of your love."
And by any measure, there was a lot of love.
"It was simply amazing," she said in an interview with the Post after the concert, admitting that she is still sometimes worried a crowd won't be familiar with her songs when she performs abroad.
But in Washington, she said, "I truly felt the same thing" as in Israel. "Everyone sang with me...They know me."
Being well-loved and recognized should no longer surprise the songstress, who still boasts a massive fan base in Israel and one of the longest-running careers in the industry. But for those in D.C. who didn't know her quite as well, Rita opened up about her her childhood, her family, and her heritage. But it wasn't only in her soliloquies that she expressed her personal side. Each song was an exercise in personal expression. In her cover of the Police hit "Roxanne," she made the song as her own. Accented with red lights and a violin, her delivery seemed more clearly articulated and more on the mark emotionally than the original.
"Roxanne" wasn't the only unconventional selection spliced among her big hits, such as "Tiftah Halon" and "Bo."
She gave a virtuoso performance of the aria from Carmine, introduced by a rambling recollection of a trip she made with her husband to Venice.
She also led the crowd in a rendition of "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav," the anthem of Jerusalem, this time introduced by a touching story about her experience as a young immigrant to Israel.
Rita's family came to Israel when she was eight, and she told the audience how her parents enticed her from Iran with promises of banana trees in every yard. But when she came to her new home in Ramat Hasharon, there were no banana trees. Instead, she found kids at school who teased her because of her accent. When she was older and successful and was about to perform "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" before a group of world leaders, she recalled that eight-year-old child. She didn't get that banana tree, she thought, but looking at the crowd surrounding her, she realized she had much to be grateful for.