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After her last experience in Israel in 2003, it's no wonder that French pop soprano singer Emma Shapplin decided to launch her upcoming world tour here.
Six years ago, the revered classical crossover artist was in the midst of a tour that saw her perform in some of the world's most striking settings - the Acropolis in Athens, the Kremlin Grand Palace in Moscow, the Esplanade Opera House in Singapore, an open air Roman Mausoleum near Belgrade in Serbia, and an immense temple in Bali - and the Caesarea Amphitheater.
"It was simply magical. I'd been touring all around the world, and taking back with me wonderful souvenirs in my mind from a lot of countries. But the shows in Caesarea were special. The first night was a full moon, and it was nice and warm by the sea," said the singer, who speaks French-accented English with an ethereal lilt.
"We were all affected, even the band. My drummer was crying at the end, he was so touched by the setting. That night I had a feeling of being a part of the world."
The world is certainly connected to Shapplin's spine-tingling vocals, which have dominated the songs on her two multi-platinum albums Carmine Meo and Etterna, sung in an old Italian dialect, and her haunting contributions to the film soundtracks of The Fifth Element and Red Planet. But despite being smitten by the opera bug at a relatively young age, a career in music almost unfathomably bypassed the 35-year-old Parisian-born singer and composer.
When she was 11, the previously inclined tomboy heard the Queen of the Night's famous aria from Mozart's Magic Flute for the first time.
"I still had a little girl's high pitched voice then. Before that I didn't like to sing, but when I heard that aria, it felt so natural to me. Singing began to feel just felt like breathing but in a different way," she said on the phone from her Paris home.
Her newfound passion for music didn't sit well with her parents, who wanted Emma to pursue more career-oriented activities and prevented her from continuing lessons with an opera teacher who had realized her potential.
As a teenage response, Shapplin joined a hard rock band called North Wind. Years before bands like Evanescence combined layers of female soprano vocals over crunching metal riffs, Shapplin was shredding her vocal cords around dark, menacing minor key riffs.
"I guess it was part of a rebellion on my part. I'm not sure I'd like to try that again - maybe in a little softer musical setting," she laughed, adding, "all of these experiences are worthwhile, and contributed to giving me a lot more freedom in my choices."
That included returning to opera over her parents' objections after concluding it was her destiny. But instead of traditional opera, Shapplin worked at creating something new, a combination of operatic influences, lyrical poetry and modern trance and rock/pop music. She collaborated with Jean-Patrick Capdvielle, a French composer and pop star, which in 1997 resulted in her debut CD - the operatic pop of Carmine Meo.
FOR HER next effort, 2002's Etterna, Shapplin took even more responsibility for the material, writing the lyrics herself in Old Italian to better understand the concepts she was singing about.
"When I was learning to sing, the songs were in Italian, but I didn't understand what I was singing about. That's why I had to learn the language. Both the language and the music were mysterious for me, they made me dream," she was quoted as saying earlier this year.
Following the world tour for Etterna and a resulting live CD and DVD from her Caesarea show, Shapplin has taken a lower profile in recent years, preparing her upcoming album Macadam Flower at her own pace.
"I took some time between the Etterna and this one," she said. "To tell the truth, I composed the songs differently and it's a change of pace for me. I went to a few record companies and they were hesitant about the change in direction, so I've been waiting and touring a lot in the meantime.
"I didn't want to repeat myself, and I received encouragement from my manager who said if you want to do something different, then go for it and people will accept it. The album is in the mastering stage now, and I'm very proud of it."
According to Shapplin, who will give Israeli fans a sneak preview of the material on Macadam Flower during her two shows here - on November 5th at the Congress Center in Haifa and on November 7th at Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv - the new album updates her style without providing a total makeover.
"The approach of the vocals is quite different - it's more intimate, more sensual maybe. The approach of the compositions is more like ballads done in a pop style. There's some electro pop sound, some rock and some acoustic. It's varied. But the main things are still the poetry and my voice," she said.
While Shapplin had intended to go out on tour in support of the album, the offers to perform in Israel prompted her to advance plans ahead of schedule.
"When we received the offer to do these two shows, I thought, 'well, it's a bit premature. The album isn't finished yet, we haven't started rehearsing,'" she said.
"The first dates of a tour are very important. Everybody, especially the musicians and myself, are nervous - it's important we get it right. In the end, I decided that we could rush a little and get prepared in order to start the tour in Israel, and I'm very happy with the decision."
WITH ALL the tumult surrounding the completion of the album and the launching of the tour, Shapplin said that she pays special attention to the most important part of the production - her voice - by not doing anything special.
"I don't take care of my voice in any major precautionary way - it's a part of my body, a part of my self. I try to know what I want and need to do with it in order to be able to perform," she said.
"I'm kind of a quiet person and before shows, I prefer not to talk a lot in order to preserve energy. In any case, my talking voice and singing voice aren't coming from the same places. If they were, I'd have to speak like this - a bit poshy," she laughed, taking on a snooty, upper-crust inflection in her voice.
Shapplin's career doesn't leave much of a chance for downtime, but among her outside pursuits are learning to play the cello, studying Japanese, taking walks in the woods and minding for her eight cats.
"I'm not a mother yet - but I will have to think about that," she chuckled. In the meantime, though, for Emma Shapplin, there's a new album and a tour to think about.