Lugassy’s pop time

“At the beginning I wondered whether I was doing the music too operatically. Then I thought: Wait, this is Daniella. This is who I am.”

Opera soprano Daniella Lugassy (photo credit: Courtesy)
Opera soprano Daniella Lugassy
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The Israel Museum is proving to be not only the country’s most important repository of artworks and artifacts from across the millennia but also a prominent venue for holding major musical events.
Last December’s inaugural Jerusalem Jazz Festival (albeit 10 years after the original bearer of that moniker was held) at the museum was a roaring success, and next Monday through Thursday, Jerusalemites and anyone else who makes it up the hill will be able to enjoy a raft of top-class musical entertainment.
The big guns lined up for the second edition of the now annual Live Festival include such glittering acts as Yehudit Ravitz, with Shalom Hanoch guesting, and a headlining double act by Eviatar Banai and Aviv Gefen, while veteran rocker Berry Sakharof will introduce the public to a slew of new numbers.
Live also takes in the wildly successful 7 Grand Pianos, One Stage show thought up by stellar pianist-conductor-composer Gil Shochat. Like last year, the ivory tickler team comprises artists from a range of disciplines, including veteran rock-pop performers Matti Caspi and Shlomo Gronich, mercurial jazz-oriented pianist Omri Mor and classical musicians such as Tal Samnon and Victor Stanislavsky. Some of the instrumental offering, which features solo slots and duets, will be augmented by vocal contributions by Caspi, Marina Maximilian and opera soprano Daniella Lugassy.
Lugassy was also on board for last year’s piano septet bash as the sole vocalist, and says she had a good time. There isn’t going to be too much in the way of operatic fare at the Israel Museum on July 13 (9 p.m.), but that doesn’t bother the 33-year-old soprano. A while ago she even recorded some pretty convincing renditions of hit pop numbers, such as Sting’s “Field of Gold” and “Fix You” by Coldplay.
Lugassy is clearly up for her Israel Museum date, and says her musical moonlighting departure came about with a change of personal circumstances. “I sang opera for years – all classical, authentic opera singing. I was living in Berlin at the time when I became pregnant, and I took some time out.” She was happy about the impending arrival, but was left at a bit of a loose musical end. “I didn’t really know what to do. I had three months’ vacation, from the eighth month until a month after the baby. So I thought, why not just do something I fancy, without thinking too much about it, about my career – just something I like.”
The drawing-board stages of the project- in-waiting went through several guises until Lugassy finally hit on her plan of action. “At first I thought of doing some lullabies for kids, then I thought of doing covers of some pop songs, and that’s how it worked out in the end. I recorded a few numbers, but I didn’t really think of taking that any further.”
But she liked what she heard and felt comfortable with the commercial stuff. “It took me off into a new direction, which enabled me to combine different things.”
The populace at large may consider pop music as light fare compared with operatic work, but Lugassy addressed the venture with the utmost seriousness. “I took a coach to help me get everything right,” she says, noting other professional considerations. “I worried whether people in the classical world might look at me differently. They might think I’d gone off the rails.”
Thankfully, her fears proved to be unfounded. “At the end of the day, people who like opera generally don’t only like opera,” she posits. “People can like a number of things. Liking pop music, for example, is not something that is taboo.”
She also hedged her bets somewhat by aiming her new output at what she hoped was the right market sector. “It really depends what audience you go for. An operatic audience really enjoys this pop stuff.”
Lugassy says she breaks her listeners in gently. “I always start off with an aria. At the end of the day I am an opera singer, not a jazz singer or a pop singer. I present myself to the audience as I really am, Daniella. But there are other sides to me. I am not just one thing. I don’t belong in a particular box. I just sing what I like to sing and I feel it. I don’t think about singing something in a classical or non-classical way.”
Still, there was a learning curve to be navigated. “At the beginning I wondered whether I was doing the music too operatically. Then I thought: Wait, this is Daniella. This is who I am.”
In fact she had plenty of formative years of listening to fall back on. “My mother is American, so when I was a kid I heard a lot of Beatles and American folk songs.” The familial mix thickens. “My father is French but has Moroccan roots. But we heard a lot of French music, and mainly opera music from my father’s side. As I grew up, like any Israeli kid, I liked to listen to the stuff we got on MTV, and also Israeli songs.”
Lugassy started flexing her vocal chords outside the home, too, which also helped to widen her musical education. “I sang in a children’s choir in Ashkelon, where we lived, and we did all kinds of Israeli songs. And at school we all heard stuff by Shlomo Artzi and Arik Einstein and that sort of thing.”
So when did it finally click with Lugassy that she was destined to sing works by Verdi, Mozart, Puccini et al.? “I am still not sure if I am a real opera singer,” she laughs. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the mass aliya from the former USSR in the early ’90s, Lugassy might have earned her crust in a different line of work. “There were Russian music teachers who came to Ashkelon,” she recalls. “They changed everything for me.”
Even so, the teachers were not taken with Lugassy’s gifts from the start. “They never gave me arias to sing, but one day I got to sing a Brahms lullaby and my voice really came through. My vocal range was really suited to that.” And that was that.
Today, Lugassy maintains a packed performing schedule, up and down the country and abroad, with the Israel Opera and all sorts of projects, including material from beyond the operatic pale. Her rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in last year’s 7 Grand Pianos, One Stage show went down very well with the audiences, and the Israel Museum crowd should be prepared to be duly wowed.
For tickets and more information: (02) 677-1300 and