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While the critics have panned Ron Howard's big screen rendering of Dan Brown's bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code, moviegoers nonetheless are flocking to the film in droves. They also happen to be purchasing the movie's soundtrack, whose haunting background music highlights a remarkably angelic voice.
For a film that has the Christian world up in arms, and dares to posit the notion that Jesus married and sired a child with Mary Magdalene, it is ironic that the angelic voice on the soundtrack - which sounds much like a 12-year-old choirboy - belongs to a Jewish Jerusalem-born coloratura soprano by the name of Hila Plitmann.
It's an irony that doesn't escape 32-year-old Plitmann as she sips a fruit smoothie at the appropriately named Aroma Caf in Studio City, Los Angeles, the place she now calls home. "I'm an artist," she says. "I wouldn't take just any job, but this was a good one...And [Jesus] was a Jew after all," she laughs.
Plitmann appears to be one of those overnight success stories. But as most overnight successes will attest, it's taken her a lifetime to get where she is. Plitmann confesses to being a "screamer from an early age," and an extrovert. At the age of seven she saw a production of Cats in London and proceeded to dance around the house singing "Jellicle Cats". But Plitmann says she was "an undisciplined piano student" before she literally found her voice . The Henrietta Szold and Rubin Academy graduate, had her first taste of her eventual career when, as a 14-year-old, she landed the role of the precocious Flora in the Israeli Opera's production of The Turn Of The Screw.
Plitmann says musical ability runs in her family. While her father was a botany professor at the Hebrew University, Plitmann says he nonetheless has "a beautiful voice" and plays guitar, and her mother studied piano and has a degree in musicology. She also has a brother and sister who are both musically inclined but not professional musicians.
After graduating high school, Plitmann was accepted into the famed Juilliard School in New York in 1991, where she did both her undergraduate and graduate degrees, returning to Israel during her summer vacations to complete her basic training in the army.
Today, Plitmann is probably best known for her hybrid work on both the operatic scene and performing modern-day classical music - not exactly mainstream fare. She's also recognized for her marriage to renowned American composer Eric Whitacre. "We met a Juilliard," Plitmann says. "He wouldn't stop bugging me, so I married him." The couple now has an eight-month-old son named Esh (fire).
Plucked from relative obscurity to work on The Da Vinci score by worldclass composer Hans Zimmer, Plitmann has suddenly become an "it" girl in the industry.
"It is a strange exposure, because classical music is prestigious in a way, but it is very minimal [in terms of exposure]," she says. "My husband keeps saying, 'You realize that there's maybe five million people who have already heard you singing [on the soundtrack]â€¦' but it doesn't really mean that much to my brain."
Certainly on this day at her local caf , Plitmann is not recognized by anyone - an advantage, she says, for being known for your voice and not your face. She would certainly have no trouble disappearing in a crowd. She's small and slight, her tiny face and chiseled features framed by a halo of dirty blonde hair. Her long sweater practically dwarfs her, but she boasts a raucous laugh and - if you listen to The Da Vinci Code soundtrack - an awesome set of pipes that somehow manage to be both strong and delicate, much like Plitmann herself.
"I have an operatic voice that is not humongous," she confesses. "It veers more on the less vibrato side and I can manipulate it to be boy soprano-ish or angelic" - which is exactly what Zimmer was looking for on The Da Vinci Code. Plitmann can sing a high G above F Sharp ("If I need to"), but says most of the music in the film was in her middle to low range, which, she says, "I do well with."
Plitmann says working on the film was one of the highlights of her career. "[Zimmer] wrote really beautiful music and it was a joy to listen to while I was recording it." And although Zimmer prepared much of what she was required to sing in advance, she was still granted some leeway in the recording studio. While the music on the soundtrack sounds like Latin to the untrained ear, Plitmann says most of the music she sang was in fact "pseudo-Latin. Hans left it up to me to create very fluid Latin-like sounds," she says.
Since the release of the movie, Plitmann say she is now starting to get more offers for film work, which she confesses she would love to do. "This has been a very very beautiful opportunity for me to get to a higher echelon of exposure," she says. However, she adds the caveat that she does not wish to be pigeonholed. For a singer whose musical tastes run the gamut from classical, orchestral and chamber music to the Beatles and Bjork ("she's huge on my list right now"), Plitmann says she is more like "an octopus" -focused in many directions.
From "Jellicle Cats" in Jerusalem to angelic soprano in Los Angeles, Plitmann has come a long way both musically and geographically. Yet, she makes a point of returning to Israel at least once a year to spend time with her family. She'll be back again this summer and hopes the publicity surrounding The Da Vinci Code won't affect her anonymity back home. Says Plitmann, "I really just want to see my family and have a good Shabbat dinner."
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