Acting the part

Kfar Blum festival features opera singer Alma Sadé Moshonov and her Israeli violinist husband.

July 7, 2019 20:29
Acting the part

Alina Saddeh Moshonov. (photo credit: CLAUDIA TEDDY)

Alma Sadé Moshonov ticks all the right boxes in the artistic DNA department. Both of her parents are professional actors. Her mother is actress Sandra Sade, and her actor and comedian father, Moni Moshonov, has been a household name for over 40 years. Her maternal grandparents were opera singers back in Romania, and her uncle is acclaimed opera tenor Gabi Sadeh.

So, Alma had to make her choices when it came to opting for one or the other breadwinning line. It turns out, there was a smidgen of defiance in the final reckoning.

“Having actor parents, I didn’t just want to be an actor,” she says.

The 37-year-old Berlin-based opera singer will put in an appearance, along with her Jerusalem-born violist husband, Amihai Grosz, on July 14 (8:30 p.m.) in the Encounters slot of this year’s Voice of Music Festival up in Kfar Blum.

“My parents were actors, so I wanted to do something a little different,” she explains. “You could say it was a sort of rebellion,” she adds with a laugh.

The soprano has achieved a robust international career in her chosen art form, and comes to Kfar Blum off the back of a hectic performance schedule – and that’s besides caring for her two young children.

“That’s why, this time, I decided to make do with just one concert at the Voice of Music Festival,” she notes.

Sadé Moshonov will join Grosz and pianist Ohad Ben-Ari in readings of two songs scored by Brahms, for voice, viola and piano, and based on the work of a couple of 18th-century German poets – “Gestillte Sehnsucht” (“Assuaged Longing”) by Friedrich Rückert, and “Geistliches Wiegenlied” (“Sacred Lullaby”) by Emanuel Geibel. The latter text was inspired by an earlier poem by Spanish Baroque writer Lope de Vega.

Sadé Moshonov was not immersed in the world of opera from the get-go and, in fact, was introduced to the discipline via a hands-on backdoor route.

“I discovered opera at the age of 17,” she says. “I was working at the Israeli Opera, in the props department. That’s how I fell in love with opera. That’s when I decided I wanted to be an opera singer.”

Sounds simple enough. But learning how to wrap your vocal chords around the demanding charts of the likes of Rossini, Verdi and Mozart isn’t exactly like studying bookkeeping or earning a living as a driver.

“I certainly wouldn’t have been a good bookkeeper, although I might have handled the driving bit,” Sadé Moshonov chuckles before adopting a more serious tone. “I decided I wanted to consider the option. I didn’t know whether it was possible at all. I wanted to experience that world.”

The teenager soon got down to brass tacks, and discovered that dreams sometimes take more than a dab of elbow grease to come true.

“I started studying,” she recalls. “It wasn’t easy for me. And I was really driven and had complete faith. But it was very tough. I sometimes look back and I think it was crazy. How did I manage it?”

But, challenges notwithstanding, the aspiring opera singer came through the steep learning curve intact, and with all the requisite skills at her behest.

“It was really difficult,” she says. “I constantly thought of giving it up. This is a tough profession. It’s hard to be a singer, and the business side is tough to deal with.”

And if Sadé Moshonov was looking for some respite from her tutors, she was to be summarily disabused. “Every voice teacher I had along the way told me that anyone who chose this profession needed to be a bit mad.”

But the up-and-comer was not to be denied.

“I thought they don’t know anything,” she posits. “It’s totally normal [to want to be a musician]. Today, I understand that, yes, you have to be a little crazy to do this.”

And the rewards don’t just come in the form of accrued stage time and paying the bills. “Every single work that has anything to do with music is a boon.”

Sadé Moshonov may have kept her nose to the grindstone, to get her operatic vocals in order, but she says she is not averse to the idea of trying her luck across a range of genres. “I like jazz a lot, and also pop and rock music, all sorts of music.”

I note there is an enterprising Israeli ensemble, by the name of the Revolution Orchestra, which has been proffering some surprising mixed fare, with rock, pop and jazz artists, over the past decade and a half.

“I wouldn’t at all mind getting into some of that,” she states.

The entertainment business is littered with the progeny of famous parents who have tried their luck at following in their antecedents’ stellar footsteps, and have failed pretty abysmally. While Sadé Moshonov happily admits to being “the daughter of,” she says her career choices helped her to forge her own slot.

“I left Israel very early, so that solved ‘the daughter of’ aspect,” she explains.

In fact, she has been working from abroad for 18 years now, taking in an eight-year berth in New York, including studies at the Mannes School of Music, five with the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf and another five-and-counting in Berlin, where she predominantly sings with the Komische Oper Berlin, which suits Sadé Moshonov’s eclectic approach to her profession. In addition to performing operas, the Komische Oper Berlin also produces operettas and musicals.

HER BERLIN-BASED work has allowed her to branch out into different areas of the musical entertainment business, and also brought her in fruitful contact with Jewish Australian-born theater and opera director Barrie Kosky.

“He is quite simply the most amazing person I have ever met, by far,” Sadé Moshonov enthuses unapologetically. “He is a total genius.” By all accounts Kosky sounds not a bad chap to have by your side in musical endeavor. “For the past five years or so, we have been putting on Yiddish song evenings. That has become the most enjoyable thing I do.”

Word of the show has spread far and wide. “This year we will play, a couple of times, at the Edinburgh Festival. We do all sorts of things in Yiddish dating back to the 1930s.”

That was, naturally, before Hitler came to power. It was a time when Berlin was the entertainment capital of the world, and was home to a very broad range of artistic projects, cutting-edge and more mainstream alike.

The synergy with Kosky has led the Israeli-born singer up all sorts of showbiz avenues. “One of the most amazing experiences I have had with Barrie is doing Fiddler on the Roof. I never thought I would do something like that. I studied opera, and it was only when I came to Berlin that I started doing some other things. I sang in [Leonard Bernstein musical] West Side Story, and I am still doing Fiddler on the Roof.”

It may not be opera, but the aforementioned productions still have plenty to offer in the way of expansive visuals and all-round grandeur. “Fiddler on the Roof is one of the most beautiful productions I have ever seen, and the most amazing production I have participated in.”

Kosky and the Komische Oper team have spared no expense and pulled no punches in putting together a sumptuous production.
“We have a full orchestra and choir, with about 70 people,” Sadé Moshonov notes, “and there are around 30 dancers and opera soloists and two more soloists who are leading figures on the Berlin scene.”

Besides her professional interest, and the personal pleasure she gets from her role in the Jerry Bock musical (i.e., Fiddler), Sadé Moshonov feels it is important to keep Jewish couture front and center, and particularly in her current place of residence. “For me, being Jewish in Berlin, and working in this opera house, today, is the greatest gift I could have asked for. I feel it is a sort of healing for us, after all we have endured.”

At the end of the day, hard-won vocal prowess notwithstanding, Sadé Moshonov is happy to feed off her thespian heritage.
“The acting, in opera, is always the thing that motivates me,” she says. “The text and the character, and the acting which, at the end of the day, is the fun part – that you are part of a story, of a drama. It is theater and not just about singing.”

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