Jewish tenor Mizrahi comes to Vail
Alberto Mizrahi has performed in front of giant crowds at Carnegie Hall and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. He’s soloed for Dave Brubeck’s jazz oratorio, understudied Luciano Pavarotti and appeared on the PBS broadcast “The Cantors: A Faith in Song.”
But really, it’s the smaller venues that Mizrahi enjoys.
“Intimate audiences are lovely when you are expecting them,” joked Mizrahi, who last performed for 1,400 people at an outdoor concert in Krakow, Poland. “I like to speak to the audience. I can get them involved, and there’s an immediacy to the response and a feeling of family.”
A world-renown tenor, Mizrahi is more affectionately know among his own audience at the Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. As the hazzan (cantor) of the congregation, Mizrahi uses his rich and vibrant operatic voice to lead the temple in songful prayer.
Next Thursday, Aug. 10, at 7:30 p.m., Mizrahi will perform to another intimate audience at the Beaver Creek Chapel to celebrate B’Nai Vail’s “Imagine the Possibilities” campaign. The concert will showcase Mizrahi’s diverse musical background.
“I’m going to present everything from Sephardic, exciting Middle Eastern sounds, a couple of Yiddish tunes, some opera and some contemporary music,” said the Greek-born Mizrahi, who is a Sephardic Jew, but trained as an Ashkenazi cantor. “I’m going to try and sneak in a little bit of the (cantorial) influences in there.”
The profession of a cantor developed as an Eastern European art Jewish cultural expression, but it has transformed across the years, Mizrahi said.
“If you lived in a shtetl (a small Jewish village), you needed a release from the everyday life, and the cantor was your rock star,” Mizrahi said. “You listened to the prayers. We’re not there anymore. We don’t have that kind of an audience.”
Some in Mizrahi’s congregation would disagree.
“I think we feel unbelievably privileged,” said Susan Schonfeld, who has been one of Mizrahi’s congregants for almost 20 years. “Not only is he a world-class cantor and tenor, but he adds so much spirituality to your life. His music is so beautiful. He’s so erudite in that he sings in so many languages.”
While Mizrahi can sing in nine language, his favorite is Hebrew, which works to the benefit of those he teaches.
“(Alberto) guided all three of my kids through the Bar Mitzvah process,” Schonfeld said. “He was so great with them. He’s able in inspire kids a lot.”
Mizrahi is inspiring to adults as well. During his 10 years of opera singing, Mizrahi learned how to do what the best in his field strive for ” evoke emotions out of the listeners.
“(Opera) music is very emotional,” Mizrahi said. “One of the things you learn early on is that you have to control your emotions and let the music say it. When you become a great singer, you emote more and more.”
Mizrahi finds that cantorial singing strikes a similar balance to that of opera.
“It’s the same thing modally speaking,” Mizrahi said. “The greatness of cantorial music is that you are in an improvisatory art. You have the ability to stand there and lift the words from the page for the congregants. You have to interpret these ancient words and make them new and whole again. I know when I’ve moved myself to a moment of spirituality, that I’ve probably done my job, which is to move the congregation to spirituality.”
Throughout his career, Mizrahi has gone through a personal evolution.
“When I became a cantor, I became an Ashkenazi cantor, but as I spent time on the bima, I had this passion to develop my Sephardic side,” Mizrahi said.
Mizrahi sings many melodies in ladino, the Judeo-Spanish language of his Sephardic ancestors.
Even though Mizrahi holds a historic position, he understands the importance of modern adaptations.
“He’s decided to bring our synagogue into the 20th century,” Schonfeld said. “He’s doing things like ‘Friday Night Live,’ a singing Shabbat service with Klezmer music. (These services) really bring the people in.”
“You have to change. I retooled myself over the past 10 years,” Mizrahi said, commenting on how he takes contemporary tunes and melds then into more classic cantorial music “People love it. And that’s what B’Nai Vail does.”
And outside of the synagogue, Mizrahi often crosses over musical genres to collaborate with other artists.
“I like to expand my repertoire,” said Mizrahi, who recently did a concert with the Afro-Semitic Experience. “I did some cantorial music in a jazz beat.”
Mizrahi’s most memorable collaborations have been with Pavarotti and Theodore Bikel.
“(Pavarotti) is a wonderful gentleman,” Mizrahi said. “It was incredible to watch him. I learned a lot with him.”
Chances are, if Mizrahi is at any Jewish service, he’s doing the singing, much to the audience’s delight. There have been a few times he’s been on the other side of the bima.
“But how often have I been into a synagogue that I haven’t been invited in to sing?” Mizrahi said. “As I retire, it may happen more.”
Mizrahi said he’d like to continue singing for 10 more years or so, and has other ventures lined up for then, including two or three more CD’s he’d like to record and several video projects.
“We’re thinking of doing Alberto’s Greece,” Mizrahi said, “It would cover my Greek-Jewish heritage, cooking and singing. One (project) I really want to do is origins of Jewish music through my life.”
For now, Mizrahi is busy enough, with his job as a cantor, his recordings (he is finishing up his most recent work, “The World of Alberto Mizrahi”), his concerts and instruction of masters classes at the Jewish Theological Seminary Cantorial School.
“When I get a chance, which used to be more often, I enjoy playing golf,” Mizrahi said.
Mizrahi is excited for his Vail trip, and not just for the concert or a possible round of golf.
“I’m truly looking forward to visiting friends,” Mizrahi said.
Schonfeld, who has a home in the area, is just as happy to see Mizrahi.
“He’s such a down-to-earth guy,” Schonfeld said. “He’s so enjoyable to be around.”
Anyone interested in attending the event can contact Jessica Tenner at 477-2992 or email@example.com.
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