Spoken like a true artist; Emma Shapplin, accomplished soprano

To read Shapplin is not enough. She speaks in music – using utterances to describe her experiences.

Emma Shapplin (photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
Emma Shapplin
(photo credit: SIVAN FARAG)
‘I’m never that proud of myself,” said French soprano Emma Shapplin. Spoken like a true artist, Shapplin reflected on her past performances in a crisp all-white jump suit atop Tel Aviv’s beachside Sheraton Hotel. The 44-year-old’s green eyes were open wide and her smile stayed put throughout the entire interview. Shapplin had just performed two sold-out shows at Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, but couldn’t quite pick out a career highlight she believed to be her top achievement. Instead, she selected musical experiences that stood out to her. The first to come to mind was an outdoor concert in Israel’s very own Caesarea. “It was almost mystical. Singing by the sea was, wow. The public was so warm. I felt I was held. I would say it was one of my best memories from a concert.”
To read Shapplin is not enough. She speaks in music – using utterances to describe her experiences.
“When I sang in Singapore in the Esplanade Opera House. The room was made with cuivre,” she said in her native tongue. “Copper! There was copper, wood, and another element. When you sing there the acoustic is ahh, incredible. You feel that your legs are in the ground and your head is wide open and your voice is like ooooh. That was an incredible moment.”
Shapplin is an accomplished artist, despite her difficulty in pinpointing her own greatest successes. She began her career singing classical opera in Paris before pursuing rock music. Though she was quickly steered back to her roots in opera, Shapplin keeps elements of rock, pop and even trance music in her work. She’s released four albums – Carmine Meo (1998), Etterna (2002) which was done with the London Symphony Orchestra, Macadam Flower (2009) and Dust of a Dandy (2014) – and is working on a fifth. Shapplin wrote and performed all of her works in French, English, Medieval Italian and, recently, Hebrew.
Shapplin is newly collaborating with world-famous Israeli singer and pianist Idan Raichel. He joined her for a handful of songs in her Tel Aviv concerts in late April and will be returning in her future performances as well. Raichel guided Shapplin in their first performance together April 26, while Shapplin fumbled with some of the Hebrew. Shapplin says it can be quite difficult for artists to make connections with one another since their time is often spent working on creating new music or touring while performing old music.
Shapplin’s manager brought Raichel to her hotel after she performed a show in Israel four years ago. Shapplin says the two spent some time watching one another and creating a connection. Not too long afterward, Raichel sent over some songs.
“I think he’s a very talented pianist, with a soft and deep touch. He has a beautiful voice. And also from what I understood of the [Hebrew] lyrics, he’s very close to poetry. He’s very poetic. He writes delicate and gentle lyrics. I love that – especially nowadays. I’m very shy. I try to joke, so we were joking together, which made things smoother. We two are shy together. We had the best connection we can have for a duet, from my experience,” Shapplin remarked.
THE ARTIST’S concert was a mix of her past works with some experimental songs she’s working on from her new album. She divulged just a bit, telling The Jerusalem Post the album will likely be called Il Cammino Mio, or My Road. One song she performed that doesn’t quite have the finishing touches on it yet is called “Signor Mirate.”
“It’s always a big emotion because you don’t know how it will go. When you sing in studio, when you compose it, when you write it, when you repeat it. It’s not the same as when you’re in front of people. I think I have a few things that I will maybe change,” Shapplin said of the song.
“On a premiere, you don’t know what’s going to happen. Even if you rehearse... and when I sang “Tu Che Di Ciel” it was so strong that my body almost couldn’t bear it. I was knocked out. I was about to faint, actually. I was shaking through my next song. I had to tell myself to go slowly, slowly, slowly. I even missed a few other lines from that song because of that. So the next day I readjusted.”
Shapplin calls her voice “the Beast” because it can be very powerful and at times, she feels she can barely control it.
“I say, ‘Hey baby. I’m riding you.’ It’s not the other way around. But I love that. I love these experiences, as long as I don’t faint,” she joked.
Ah, the troubles of the average working woman.
Shapplin works in other art forms as well, trying her hand at photography and painting as ways to help her get closer to music.
“I’m too slow [to produce] and when you have to tour at the same time, meet people and give interviews, you get out of the creative mood. I think it’s a good connection, although, when I paint for too long, I feel as if I am covered in mud. But when I sing, I feel enlightened, revealed and clean. After almost every concert, I feel all smashed. As if I had been beaten for hours. And then in the morning, I feel completely fresh. There’s nothing like singing with a lyric voice because your whole body sings. The whole body vibrates. It’s a balance between fight and gentleness and power and delicacy.”
Shapplin says she’s always seeking out poetry and grace, looking for ways to let them into her life, rejecting the notion that people must be tough in order to be strong.
“That sentence – ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? – it’s absolutely wrong, because you know what happens? You get tough, you get hard and then how can you receive grace? It can’t get into you if you’re tough. It just can’t! Grace is everywhere and I am searching for it,” she explained.
Shapplin graces Israel once more this spring, returning to Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim Arena with Raichel by her side on May 12th.

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