Opera Chic spoke to Israeli soprano Chen Reiss for Grazia.it about her full-fury November -- she'll sing some Mozart sacred arias at the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art in Rome and she'll launch her second CD with Onyx Classics, “Le Rossignol et la Rose”.
Read the English translation of the interview (and an outtake about singing Gilda that wasn't included in the Grazia.it version) under the cut!
"I was born into it," says Israeli soprano Chen Reiss, speaking about her mother, Yafit, who put her opera career on hold to raise Chen and three siblings. "She's the most influential person in my life," she added.
Born and raised in Herzliya, Chen studied ballet but switched to singing at fourteen. After graduating from a performing arts high school, she passed compulsory military service in the IDF as a singer in the army’s orchestra. At eighteen, she attended a summer program organized by the International Vocal Arts Institute and then moved to Manhattan to continue her studies.
In 2003, she won a 3-year fest contract at the Bayerische Staatsoper, followed by a period of high-level concert repertory from 2007-2011. Beginning at the 2011-12 Wiener Staatsoper season, she’s in Vienna with a residence contract to sing signature roles suited to her voice, described as “young and pure” – Pamina in Die Zauberflöte, Adina in L'elisir d'amore, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Gilda in Rigoletto.
In November, she’ll sing sacred music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the International Festival of Sacred Music and Art in Rome. November also launches her second CD with Onyx Classics “Le Rossignol et la Rose”, full of romantic arias. “It’s about love and passion – very intimate and in a way, it’s also daring,” she says. “My philosophy is that you must love. Life without love isn’t worth living.” Like any great love story, it comes with a backstory full of heartbreak and renewal.
Your new CD that exits on November 5, “Le Rossignol et la Rose”, is a departure from your more pragmatic repertory. On the disc, you explore twenty-one composers of romantic arias – so what’s your personal philosophy of love?
A year before recording the CD as I was researching the concept, I was in a relationship and very happy. A few months before recording, we broke up. It was a painful process and I was very hurt. I couldn’t even imagine recording the CD! But it turned out to be the best thing. Every word was suddenly more meaningful. I believe in the power of love and the beauty that it can bring to our lives. I wrote the CD footnote with a personal touch: “Love has filled my heart with wondrous warmth but it has also burnt my heart, all of which is expressed in the songs of this album. Yet i am willing to walk through the fire of love once more. At the end, I can loudly sing – all is love to me.'"
November 13, 2012 you’ve been invited to sing sacred music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart for the International Festival of Sacred Art and Music in Rome. How is it significant?
It’s meaningful in many ways. I’ll be performing for the first time with the Wiener Philharmoniker, which I’ve always dreamed about. It’s a huge honor for an Israeli to be chosen to sing in a festival connected to The Vatican. The Israelis are very proud that I was chosen because it shows how open the festival is to include people from other religions and cultures. The repertory is very close to my heart – when I sing sacred Mozart arias, I feel like we are all united in our faiths. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. This is the great power of music, which can transcend race, religion and culture. It’s a language which unites mankind.
Are you excited to sing in Italy?
I love Italy. You have the best food, the most beautiful landscapes, great shopping, great beaches and seas, and great people. I love the language and the music. It’s paradise.
Do you find similarities between the Israeli and the Italian cultures?
Yes! But it’s something deeply internal – the concept of and value of the family. Israelis and Italians value the family unit above all. This is something you don’t see in other cultures and to me, it’s a wonderful characteristic.
Gilda is one of your signature roles. Do you find her naive?
If I had to describe her in one word, it wouldn't be "naive" -- rather "pure". I admire that quality in her. I like that she's very total: she loves -- and she loves to death. She's true to herself and with everybody around her. It's a fabulous role both musically and dramatically. I never try to identify with the roles that i sing. Instead, I look at them and try to find as many qualities as possible -- some are similar to mine and some are not -- and the disimilar ones are the most welcoming and interesting because they take you to places that you've never visited in yoru soul, your mind and your imagination. I see myself equally as an opera singer and an actress. it's just as important on the stage to act and sing. It's a great priviledge to wear different hats.