Born to sing
Hila Baggio has been performing – and loving it – for as long as she can remember.
HILA BAGGIO Photo: Yossi Zvecker
Hila Baggio has mastered the art of becoming different people – sometimes in the
span of just a few days.
“Two days ago, I was playing a child, so I had
to take everything off,” she says in the midst of a manicure. “But now I need to
be onstage with nail polish on. I have to be a woman again.”
performing in the title role of Gil Shohat’s Israeli opera The Child Dreams in
Germany, Baggio returns to Israel in Orfeo ed Euridice, an 18th-century Italian
opera, opening May 11 with the Israel Opera. The manicure, of course, is just
the fun bit of the work that goes into Baggio’s expanding career as an
international opera singer. From learning new languages to a steady regimen of
healthy food and exercise and keeping up with her young daughter, the soprano
keeps as busy offstage as on – and that’s saying a lot. This season alone,
she’ll perform with the Israeli Opera, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the
Israel Camerata Orchestra; she’ll appear in the Masada Festival in Israel and
the Rossini Festival in Italy, as well as singing in Germany.
born and raised in Jerusalem, and musical talent came early.
“I was two
years old and singing,” she says. “I took piano lessons, but I wouldn’t play –
I’d just sing.”
By the time she was 10 years old, she was singing in The
Ankor Children’s Choir of the Jerusalem Rubin Conservatory of Music and Dance;
Baggio was a professional, world-traveling choral singer before her Bat
“I didn’t have a normal childhood – not at all,” she says. “Most
children don’t spend hours singing in a choir every week, six days a week. And
my younger sister, well, younger sisters usually imitate their older sisters.
For mine, the singing annoyed her. I had to practice when she wasn’t
At 12, Baggio first heard opera, and the sound sparked something
inside her, as “there was acting involved, not just singing,” she remembers. “I
fell in love. It was the perfect combination for me.”
But the budding
singer was largely stuck inside the repertoire of Ankor – mostly classical and
liturgical music. It wasn’t until Baggio studied at the Rubin Academy of Music
at Tel Aviv University that opera finally took center stage.
“I felt this
second revival of opera music in me,” she says.
From the Academy, Baggio
was picked to join the Israeli Opera Studio in 2002, a selective
perform-and-study opportunity that was “a straight path to the Israeli Opera,”
says Baggio. “The Academy was theoretical stuff, but the studio was actual
experience: small roles onstage, learning what goes into a production, learning
the combination of singer and conductor. I figured out how it all
A decade ago, Baggio was landing small roles through the Studio;
today, she’s one of the opera’s anchors, with her performance schedule lined up
well through 2013. In 2002, she sang supporting role Amore in Orfeo ed Euridice,
in 2012, she’ll sing Orfeo.
Her rise is due to more than just a great,
melodic voice – though that certainly helped. Rather, Baggio approaches opera
singing like being an athlete.
“It’s all about working the right
muscles,” she says. “I train my muscles and my body, sometimes with yoga and
pilates. My instrument is my body. But I need to be strict in my private life as
well. Everything that has to do with my mental states can also affect the voice;
how many hours I sleep, what I eat, if I had an argument with my husband the day
before. It all affects my singing.”
What it all means is that opera’s
combination of acting and singing makes for a living, breathing performance.
There’s no faking it, no posing. And that’s exactly why Baggio insists on
reading and understanding the entirety of every libretto for every show she’s
in, even if the text is in a language she doesn’t speak.
in Italian and German and fluent in Hebrew and English, Baggio is sure to read
“all the other characters’ parts,” she says. “I want to know my relationship
with each character. Can you imagine singing in Italian about loving someone,
but not knowing what you were singing? If I don’t speak the language, I have to
translate, and learn the libretto by heart.”
While Italian is Baggio’s
favorite language to sing (“There’s a reason the opera was born there,” she
says), Hebrew falls farther down the ladder: “I think it’s the hardest I’ve
sung, with all the ‘ch’ and ‘ah’ sounds.”
In Hebrew or not, though, the
Israeli public is picking up on the art of opera. Last year’s annual Israeli
Opera performance, of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, in Tel Aviv’s HaYarkon Park,
“There’s been a nice revival here,” says Baggio. “Our
performances are selling out. For us, it’s so nice to sing in your home
country to an audience that appreciates you. Israeli audiences at the
opera are really warm – singers from abroad love coming as well.”
believes part of the surge is the Israeli Opera’s insistence on modernizing a
stereotypically stuffy medium. Orpheo ed Euridice, a mythological tale about a
poet who loses his wife and gains a chance from the gods to revive her, was
first performed in the 1700s. This month’s production, though, “is very modern.
The show treats everything with real emotion,” says Baggio. “This isn’t
the traditional idea of the fat lady singing onstage. It’s all very
Baggio finishes her manicure as she gets off the phone. Her nails
are deep red. She’s ready for her latest role, and whatever comes
Orpheo ed Euridice runs through May 22, Tel Aviv Performing Arts
Center, 19 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard. (03) 692-7777 or