Feeling right at home: The Israeli Opera opens its season with ‘La Boheme’

Alla Vasilevitsky met and fell in love with an oleh from the Ukraine who lived in Arad.

The Israeli Opera opens its new season with ‘La Boheme’ (photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
The Israeli Opera opens its new season with ‘La Boheme’
(photo credit: YOSSI ZWECKER)
Alla Vasilevitsky has come a long way in several senses. The 30something soprano hails from Kamchatka, at Russia’s far eastern extremity. The very name Kamchatka is almost a byword for remoteness, but Vasilevitsky doesn’t travel too far beyond home and work these days.
“I live in Ramat Gan now,” she says.
That offers much in the way of time-saving which, given the fact that the singer has an eight-month old child at home, is of prime importance.
Vasilevitsky’s current busy agenda includes – besides the maternal activities – rehearsing for the upcoming production of Puccini’s La Bohème, which will be performed at the Opera House 12 times between November 22 and December 8. It is also the curtain raiser for the Opera’s 2017-18 season.
The lineup for the current rendition has Italian composer Francesco Cilluffo sharing conductor duties with Karin Ben- Yosef. The personnel has more than a whiff of Italy about it, with Cilluffo’s compatriot Mazzonis di Pralafera directing and Carlo Sala and Franco Mari, the brains, ingenuity and experience behind the set and lighting design, respectively. Meanwhile, the vocalist roster includes Noa Danon, who will split the lead role of Mimi with Vasilevitsky; Russian-born tenor Alexey Dolgov and Philippineborn Arthur Espiritu as Rodolfo; Israeli sopranos Hila Baggio and Shiri Hershkovitz as Musetta; and baritones Vittorio Vitelli from Italy and Romanian singer Ionut Pascu as the painter Marcello.
Vasilevitsky has also covered plenty of ground in cultural, practical and professional terms.
“I don’t come from a musical family,” she says, “although my mother wanted to be a musician but was discouraged from doing so by her mother. She said being a musician wasn’t a real profession. My mother ended up studying law.”
While that may sound like a typical Polish-/Iraqi-Jewish parental mindset – law or medicine, for example, were considered to be acceptable lines of work, but never the arts – in fact, Vasilevitsky is not Jewish. Mind you, she suspects there may be some Jewish genes somewhere in the family background.
“I am certain there are some Jewish roots,” she ventures. “There are all sorts of given names that sound Jewish. My mother’s grandfather was called Felix, from Poland, and his father was Joseph.”
Unlike her mother, Vasilevitsky was able to follow her heart.
“I suppose I am realizing my mother’s dream,” she says, adding that she benefited from plentiful maternal support.
“When I was 13, I wanted to give music up,” she recalls. “I felt I’d come to a dead end. But my mother said I was so musical and that I only had two years to finish my studies. I told her I would finish my studies only because of her.”
And the rest is history.
“Of course, I am so happy I kept on with my studies,” Vasilevitsky continues, “otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.”
Having kept her word to her mother, Vasilevitsky moved 3,500 km. to Moscow, where she enrolled at a conservatory at the age of 18, furthering her choral conducting, voice training and piano studies.
Her operatic aspirations burgeoned at that time, although it took a while for the penny to drop.
“I had three teachers. One in Kamchatka, thanks to whom I realized I wanted to be an opera singer; the second in Moscow, who helped me understand that I wanted to be an opera singer, but not as part of a choir. The third was here – Larissa Tutuev, who helped me turn the dream into reality,” she recounts.
Vasilevitsky came across the latter at the Israeli Opera Studio, which nurtures the skills of young vocalists.
“Larissa still helps me a lot,” she says.
Vasilevitsky made good progress in the Russian capital, but her life course took a sharp turn when she came to Israel for a vacation. She had no intention of staying here for more than a few weeks, but Cupid had other ideas. She met and fell in love with an oleh from the Ukraine who lived in Arad, and within a short space of time, Vasilevitsky was a newlywed happily ensconced in the hilltop southern town.
That was nine years ago. Today, Vasilevitsky exudes a sense of comfort here. Her Hebrew is fluent, and she is clearly comfortable in her adopted place of domicile.
Her rapidly acquired skill in street-level communication was robustly supported by the wife of a bona fide national celeb, Nili Oz, who is married to acclaimed Israeli Prize laureate Amos Oz. The Ozes are longtime residents of Arad, which is where the opera singer and the author’s wife met.
“I sang at a small concert – a solo rendition of Gershwin’s ‘Summertime,’” explains Vasilevitsky. “After the show, a lovely woman came up to me and said some nice things about my singing and that she wanted to help me learn Hebrew.”
And so it came to be, with the new immigrant making bi-weekly trips to the Oz household. It was an excellent practical development for Vasilevitsky and also a moving one.
“I had read Amos’s books in Russian. And there were all those books on shelves around the house,” she says.
It was not only a rewarding departure that facilitated her absorption into Israeli society, but it also helped to further her artistic and professional ambitions.
“Nili told me about the IVAI [Israel Vocal Arts Institute] in Jaffa,” says the soprano. “They have master classes with international teachers. I landed a few roles there. That led me to Larissa Tutuev.”
From there, the path to full-blown Israeli Opera slots was a relatively short and smooth one. Her first role was as Pileppa in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades in 2010. She has also sung in Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love, Verdi’s Nabucco and Il Trovatore, and Puccini’s La Rondine.
“I felt I had come to a good place,” she says. “The standard of work was very high. I didn’t know anything about opera in Israel when I first came here, but I am happy to be here.”
‘La Boheme’ will be performed between November 22 and December 8 at the Opera House in Tel Aviv. For tickets and more information about ‘La Bohème’ and the Israeli Opera’s new series: (03) 692-7777 and www.israel-opera.co.il