The Sohn of music

For versatile lyric soprano Elinor Sohn, opera is her first love.

Elinor Sohn 521  (photo credit: Yaron Leshem)
Elinor Sohn 521
(photo credit: Yaron Leshem)
Being a lyric soprano, says Elinor Sohn, is a mixed blessing. “On the one hand, most of the great opera roles are for that voice; and on the other, the competition for them is ferocious because lyric soprano is what there’s most of.”
Undaunted, Sohn spent all of last year auditioning in Europe to make a place for herself in the professional opera world – “Europe is the place to start” – and on September 12 she begins a year’s contract at the prestigious Stuttgart Opera. In November she’ll pop back to Israel to sing with the Israel Camerata.
In the meantime, she’s spending her fourth summer at the International Opera Workshop (IOW) at the Music Center in Jaffa. Last year she sang Ilia in Mozart’s Idomeneo. This year, on July 27 & 30, she’ll sing Donna Anna in Don Giovanni.
Traditionally, the licentious Don is pictured as seducing the innocent Donna Anna, but Sohn will have none of this. She sees Anna as a young woman rebelling against an arranged marriage, who “only gets mad when the Don makes it clear she’s only a one-night stand. I don’t think she’ll ever marry Don Ottavio. He’s too nice, and at that age girls like a bit of a bad boy,” she says.
Sohn came to IOW as do all the young singers. She auditioned for Joan Dornemann in New York, where she was getting her masters degree in opera at the Brooklyn College Music Conservatory on scholarship. In fact, scholarships, prizes and awards have funded her education since the beginning.
“Vocal studies are very expensive,” she says. “My parents don’t have that kind of money, but they have been behind me all the way, encouraging me, supporting me.”
Sohn’s story starts in Russia.
She was born in Voronezh and immigrated with her engineer parents in 1990 when she was six. The family settled in Haifa, where her parents both work in their professions. Her sister is a programmer. A grandfather sang in a choir, but Sohn is the first to have a musical career. Musical ability does run in the family, though, even if singing doesn’t.
“We all play the piano,” she says, and adds that there are pictures of her singing already in kindergarten. She sang all through elementary and middle school, was a member of the Haifa Young Singers Troupe and started taking voice lessons in high school “so I could be the best in the troupe.”
But that first vocal teacher was an opera buff, and Sohn caught the bug from her. She started studying classical voice, working with private teachers while doing her IDF service in the Air Force, and from there enrolled at the Rubin Music Academy in Jerusalem. She began to think that perhaps she might have a career in opera “already in my first year because I’d usually get the roles I auditioned for, and from my second year I sang in the Moran Ensemble [a respected choir].”
Ambition, the desire to excel, is built in from home. Sohn carries herself gracefully and with confidence. She’s sturdily built, has blond hair and guileless blue eyes that like to laugh. She speaks easily, doesn’t much gesture, chooses her words.
She is married to architect Guy Halfon, whom she has been with for seven years.
“He came with me to New York.
It was tough, but we got through it. When I go to Stuttgart, though, he’ll be staying here because of his job,” she says. “Sure, it’ll be hard, but we’ll manage.”
At Stuttgart she’ll understudy the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro and sing the small role of Anchen, the maid in Weber’s The Sharpshooter ( Der Freischutz).
There will also be concerts. With the Camerata she’ll sing Fiordiligi in Cosi Fan Tutte. Her dream for now is Violetta in La Traviata.
Sohn has sung oratorio, lieder and other kinds of classical music, but opera is her first love – for the drama, for the acting, for the sheer spectacle of it. Singing “gives me a kind of strength,” she says. “When I’m singing well, I float all day.”
Don Giovanni will be performed at the Music Center in Jaffa (10 Rehov She’erit Israel) on July 26 at 8 p.m. and July 30 at 8:30 p.m. A gala concert takes place at the Performing Arts Center in Tel Aviv on July 29 at 1:30 p.m.