The Haifa Symphony closes its season with a semi-staged production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville on Sunday and Monday. An international cast of solo singers includes Nigel Smith as Figaro, Laura Alonso as Rosina and Todd Willander as Almaviva, as well as Israeli soloists such as Yuri Kissin as Bartolo, Yaacov Strizhak as Basilio, Nizan Yogev as Berta and Gabriel Lowenheim as Fiorello. The show is staged by Yulia Pevzner, while US-based Israeli conductor Yoel Levi leads the musical forces.
“In fact, this is almost a concert performance of the opera,” says Russian-born Israeli bass baritone Yuri Kissin. “Not so much acting and classical costumes.”
The singer, who makes Paris his home, appears throughout Europe and occasionally performs in Israel, singing with the Israel Philharmonic and Ramat Gan Chamber Orchestra and other projects.
Kissin immigrated to Israel in 1990 at the age of 17 – “Exactly on my birthday,” he recalls with a smile, and was accepted to the Rubin Music Academy in Tel Aviv as a flutist. He studied music from the age of nine in his native city of Perm, first playing clarinet, then flute. In addition, he sang in a boys’ choir.
“The story of my becoming a singer is quite funny,” he recounts. “At the academy, I participated in a students’ show; it was a parody, and my role was that of an opera singer,” says Kissin, who is well known among Israel’s Russian-language community as a stand-up comedian and writer for the cult satirical newspaper Beseder? “One of the academy teachers said, ‘Hey, you have a real voice.’” Within a month, he prepared Kissin for entrance exams.
In Israel, Kissin sang with all local the orchestras, as well as the Israeli Opera.
In 1999, he was accepted to the Paris Opera Studio. Since then, he has sung in most French opera theaters. His repertoire includes roles in operas by composers such as Mozart, Donizetti, Rossini, Tchaikovsky,Wagner, Offenbach and Verdi, but comic roles suit his character best, he says.
Kissin confides that the situation on the opera scene is far from easy.
“Following the downfall of opera markets in Spain and Italy, singers from these countries compete with me for the same roles. I can’t say I have less work, but I travel more, appearing in Holland, my hometown Perm in Siberia and other venues,” he says.
How does it feel to be an Israeli in France these days? And to be a Jew in Russia? “It depends on how you define yourself,” says Kissin. “I present myself as a French/Israeli singer. I don’t hide my right-wing political views, and people accept me as such. Because if you start to explain and apologize, people immediately start to teach you how you should live. I identify with Israel and the Jewish people and recently performed Service sacre pour le matin du Shabbat by Darius Milhaud in Paris. This rarely performed piece is sung in Hebrew. Yet again, the situation in Paris is far from simple, and that is why I moved from the capital to one of its quiet suburbs, where Jews affix mezuzot outside and not inside their homes.”
The Barber of Seville will be performed on July 27 and 28 at 8:30 p.m. at the Haifa Auditorium. For tickets, call (04) 833-8888 .