Foto: Claire Meghnagi; Copyright Maxim Reider; Acis und Galatea.
Israeli soprano Claire Meghnagi graduated from the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, and continued her studies in Boston and New York. She performs music from Monteverdi to the 21st century and is particularly acclaimed for her interpretation of baroque music and roles in operas by Handel and Mozart. Claire made her debut at the world's most prestigious venues in 2007 with Les Arts Florissants and William Christie in the Jardin des Voix concert tour. She debuted singing the role of Tullia in Bononcini's Il Trionfo di Camilla while still a student in Boston. Since 2006 she has been a soloist at the Israeli Opera. She made her Wigmore Hall debut in London singing Night/the Plaint/Chinese woman in concert version of The Fairy Queen and debutes in Austria, in the title role of Galatea (Acis and Galatea), with the Wiener Akademie conducted by Martin Haselböck. In concert, she´s sung in a Gala at the Opera Comique in Paris with Les Arts Florissants, Handel's Alexander's Feast with Jerusalem Baroque, Mozart's Exsultate Jubilate and Handel's Judas Maccabeus with the Jerusalem Symphony, and Bach's Cantatas BWV 202, 199 with the Israeli Chamber Orchestra. In 2009, she represented Israel in the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition. In the 2011/ 2012 season, she will sing the roles of Cleopatra (Giulio Cesare in Egitto) at the Finnish National Opera in Helsinki and Euridice (Orfeo ed Euridice) at Israeli Opera and at the Philharmonie hall in Berlin performing Mahler´s 4th Symphony. Claire generously agreed to do this interview where she speaks about her prolific career.
What is the current state of opera and music in Israel?
Israel has a very active opera and music scene. It is a tiny country but we have so much going on, with a big variety of orchestras and ensembles. We have one big opera house which is the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv. It has a regular season plus concerts, dance performances and community outreach programs. There is also the Israeli Philharmonic (which also makes about 2 operas a year), plus 8 orchestras and 3 period instrument orchestras that also perform operas and festivals too, so there is so much going on. I think Israel is blessed with many fine musicians who came from all around the world; this is why such a small place has lots to offer.
When did you discover that you had a gifted “voice” and when did you decide to pursue a career in opera?
I discovered my voice at a very early age, I sang for about 2 years with my father who is a synagogue cantor from Italy. I remember he used to sing with me and make "shows" at home and outside, just for fun. Later I realized I had quite a high voice so I started studying at the Conservatory, but it was only after my army service (it is mandatory in Israel, I did 2 years of service with the parachute unit) that I decided I would like to focus in opera and went to study at the music academy in Tel Aviv.
Who has influenced your career in the most positive and profound way?
My father and his sister, Jewish folk singer Miriam Meghnagi have always been my inspiration for music. From the classical world, I learned so much from the great Bill Christie whom I had the pleasure of singing with in 2007, in his Jardin des Voix international tour. This man built the entire French baroque repertoire which was never performed before, and he is a great teacher who really showed me the right way to sing and interpret this repertoire. The greatest inspiration among sopranos would be Maria callas, for her exquisite artistry and the way she went all the way with her characters. Dame Joan Sutherland is another inspiration for singing and I am so grateful I got to meet her when I represented Israel at the BBC Cardiff singer of the world competition in 2009. It was her last performance in public I think, and I remember how we all stood when she went on stage to give the awards. I didn't win it, but meeting her was one of the greatest prizes i could ever have...
How would you define your voice?
This is a bit of a difficult question as I can never listen to myself while I sing, so one never really knows how they sound... But I think my voice has color and musical personality and it is warm and full of feeling tone, it can be dark or bright according to what I´m singing and I hope it´s always warm and it touches hearts..
What would be the first song, aria, opera that you would want to sing to someone who has never heard your voice?
I think it would be Susanna from Le Nozze di Figaro, especially "deh vieni" because it is so close to my heart. She reminds me so much of myself as a young woman tied up in so many different things, but trying to have her way on the man she loves. Also, there is the role of Cleopatra by Handel which defines me very well. This season I am so blessed to sing these 2 roles which are really the core of my repertoire!
How many roles comprise your repertoire?
I have roles from Monteverdi to contemporary music, perhaps around 40!! I haven´t performed all them yet, but I am singing now lots of Handel and Mozart roles.
Tell us more about your experience working and singing with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants….
I mentioned before that Bill is a big inspiration in my life. The Jardins Des Voix tour of 2007 took me along with other 9 young singers to sing in the most prestigious venues of Europe and the USA. It was a once in a lifetime experience!! I was trained by the best of baroque and language professionals, than sang in such amazing venues with the remarkable Les Arts Florissants. Sometimes I had to pinch myself to make sure it was true... The exposure and reviews were so overwhelming; it really made my career start in the best way.
Besides baroque music, what other types of music interest you?
I love all good music no matter what period it is from. I sing lots of Mozart of course, and I especially love Poulenc, Stravinsky and the contemporary music of Berio, Luca Lombardi and Israeli composers like Noam Sheriff, Oded Zehavi and more.
How do you know when a role is a good fit?
Great question! There are roles that just suit me perfectly, in character and vocally, like Susanna, Cleopatra, Semele, Galatea etc. There are also roles which may not feel perfect at first but then the voice grows into them. I try to make every role I sing truly mine, and I also try to get to perform the roles I know that are perfect for me.
What’s your opinion on modern / traditional stage productions?
I think a production has to work dramatically speaking, no matter if it´s modern or not, the ideas, the drama, and the characters must touch and reach the audience. That is how I do it and I am on stage to touch people's hearts.
Do you have any interesting plans or projects for the future?
I have a very exciting year ahead with 3 of my dream roles, concerts with the legendary John Malkovich and debuts in Berlin with the Philharmonie and in the USA. So I only wish to do all well and to be able to combine this crazy lifestyle with my family, I have two children who go with me whenever is possible. I wish I continue to have seasons like this and to be healthy and happy with my family!
Finally, what is that single moment you treasure the most on a stage as an opera singer?
I´ve had more than one. The first one is my performance with my dad, my aunt and my husband (Zvi Orlianski is first cellist with the Israel Camerata). This was a dream come true because we played classical arias alongside traditional Jewish songs, it was pure love and music. The second one ocurred last year when I made my debut at the Musikverein in Vienna, singing the "Messiah" with Martin Haselböck and his period instrument orchestra Wiener Akademie. When the choir sang Amen and after my aria "if God be for us" I looked around at the packed concert hall, at the golden statues and at the glorious paintings, and it was such an amazing spiritual moment, after the amazing singing and all the inspiring playing by the orchestra. I felt completely blessed and wished at that moment that a better world could be made through sublime music. RJ