Viennese music in Givat Shmuel

Soprano Sylvia Greenberg holds a workshop for aspiring opera singers.

Syvia Greenberg with husband David. (photo credit: Gabriel Aronson)
Syvia Greenberg with husband David.
(photo credit: Gabriel Aronson)
There’s a lot that goes into getting a musician out there on to the stage, to proffer his or her skills, talents and nous to an expectant audience in the most professional and credible manner.
That, and more, is what soprano Sylvia Greenberg intends to convey to eight budding opera singers from December 29 to January 4, as part of the inaugural Tel Aviv-Vienna Vocal Connection program.
The lessons, and the gala concert on January 5, will all take place at the generously proportioned residence of veteran soprano Rosemarie Danziger in Givat Shmuel, near Tel Aviv.
If anyone has the credentials to impart the tuition in question, it is Greenberg. A longtime resident of Vienna, Givatayim-born-andbred Greenberg is possibly our most successful opera singer. She left these shores almost four decades ago, first settling in Switzerland with her husband, American conductor, pianist and vocal coach David Aronson. The couple have been based in the Austrian capital for over 20 years, primarily working from the Wiener Staatsoper, or Vienna State Opera House.
Over the course of her long and glittering career, Greenberg has shared stages with some of the biggest stars in the operatic firmament, including conductors Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel and Sir Georg Solti.
She was a regular at the prestigious Salzburg Festival, appeared at the Bayreuth Festival, and delivered highly noteworthy performances at the Paris Grand Opera and at La Scala in Milan.
By all accounts, Aronson and Greenberg are the perfect professional team. “I coach singers and help them learn their roles, repertoire and interpretation,” Aronson explains. “Sylvia works more on the vocal technique, and I work more on musical matters. In that respect we complement each other.”
Naturally, Aronson will be on hand to help Tel Aviv-Vienna Vocal Connection program bunch through their singing paces here next week. “The singers will work with Sylvia individually, and then they’ll come and work with me individually. Our territories cross sometimes, but it seems to work out quite nicely. We’ve been married for 35 years and we’ve been doing this for a long time,” Aronson notes with a smile. “We're still together.”
Aronson says vocalists have to be very disciplined, not only to get to the top of their profession, but also to stay there. “Singers have a more difficult time than instrumentalists.
For a singer their instrument is their body, and it’s much more prone to health issues and even to psychological issues. If a singer is not feeling up to par, in various ways, it can affect the way they sing.”
One of the motives for the forthcoming workshop program, says Aronson, is of something of ideological nature. “Sylvia is very grateful for the help she got from the Sharett Scholarships Program when she lived in Israel, and it was her strong feeling that she wanted to give something back to Israel, and to young Israeli singers.”
Greenberg says the title for the program reflects the principal reason for the enterprise. “In addition to musical technique and our experience as professional musicians over many years, the idea is to bring a bit of Europe to Israel, and to enable students and singers who are just starting out to experience something of the world of European opera,” she explains. “Many young singers can’t afford to spend time in Europe – and Europe, particularly Vienna, is the place to be for an opera singer.”
In fact, Greenberg originally thought of giving something back at one of the institutions where she learned part of her trade. “I’d planned to do something with some official body, like the [Rubin] Academy [of Music and Dance] in Jerusalem, but things got complicated, with finances and so forth,” she continues. “And then the idea of doing a workshop at Rosie [Danziger]’s place. There is plenty of space there and it is highly suitable for a workshop like this.”
There is another important added value to the venue. “I think the intimacy of a home, as opposed to doing a workshop in, say, a studio or somewhere more formal, is ideal.If a singer can create that sense of intimacy on stage then they will have done a good job.”
The Tel Aviv-Vienna Vocal Connection program, says Greenberg, will also provide the students with some valuable non-musical tips. “We will also teach them how to perform in auditions. That is very important, as is keeping a good diet and an orderly lifestyle. I don’t know how much music school emphasize these things. To be a professional opera singer you need to have self-discipline. I wasn’t taught that at the academy. I learned it as I went along, in the profession.”
Talent alone, stresses Greenberg, will not get you there. “You have to very focused,” she observes. “There are youngsters who are born with it, with a calling, and they do what they have to do, and with great intensity. But there are others to whom God gave a good voice, but they don’t have anything else. They have to be taught exactly what goes into being a professional singer and, above all, self-discipline.”
Greenberg certainly had that, and it helped her climb to the pinnacle of the opera world. She won rave reviews and rapturous applause for many of her roles, both in recordings and live performances, including in Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 8, Richard Wagner’s opera Siegfried and, most notably, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, in which she performed the memorable “Queen of the Night” aria for the first time with the Wiener Staatsoper in 1982. The latter role became something of a trademark for Greenberg over the years.
Although Greenberg and Aronson did not plan such a grand program as the week-long Tel Aviv-Vienna Vocal Connection, the soprano says she is delighted at the way things have worked out thus far. “We originally thought of doing a one-day workshop, maybe three hours or so, and that would be that,” she recalls. “But it developed into this program, and I think the students will get a lot of out of it.”
Greenberg says she was keen not to let things get out of hand. “We are limiting the program to eight students each time, so we can provide each one with the attention they need. I hope it helps in some way to bring a bit of Europe to the opera community in Israel, and to help the youngsters to progress.”
The budding opera vocalists who did not manage to get into the first class of eight should not despair, as there may very well be more where the initial run is coming from. “We’d like to hold workshops in Israel three times a year,” says Greenberg. “We would also get other teachers on board, say if David and I can’t make it to Israel – people like [acclaimed Israeli Opera tenor] Gabi Sadeh. I am looking forward to this very much.”