Israeli soprano reaches new heights in Cardiff

Born into a musical family, it’s no surprise that Israeli singer Claire Meghnagi is now a rising star on the international classical opera scene. For acclaimed Israeli soprano Claire Meghnagi, performing in a competition was a sort of anathema. So …

Born into a musical family, it’s no surprise that Israeli singer Claire Meghnagi is now a rising star on the international classical opera scene.

For acclaimed Israeli soprano Claire Meghnagi, performing in a competition was a sort of anathema. So she chose to treat it like a concert.

“It didn’t really feel like a competition, I found it to be more of a concert with a wonderful orchestra and conductor. I chose to sing to the people – if I thought about the jury, I would have gone crazy,” Meghnagi told ISRAEL21c from Cardiff, England, where she was competing last month in the BBC Cardiff ‘Singer of the World’ competition.

The Cardiff competition is considered one of the most important and prestigious classical singing competitions in the world, due to the small number of talented and successful young singers selected. Meghnagi was one of 25 singers chosen out of 600 singers from 68 countries to take part in the seven-day event, the first time in eight years that an Israeli singer has reached the competition.

“Oh god, it’s been amazing, an intense experience. It is being broadcast all over the BBC and everyone’s covering it all the time. It can be a little stressful,” said Meghnagi, who didn’t make it past the first round of competition. “On the other hand, I’ve found out new things about myself and my capabilities thanks to this experience.

“Just being here is winning for me,” she added. “I just wanted to sing well, and I got some wonderful feedback. One of the jury members told me I was one of the strongest competitors.”

Meghnagi didn’t really need the reinforcement of winning the competition.

Singing from childhood

In her young career, she’s already received critical international acclaim, performing at some of the top venues in the world with leading orchestras. For her 2007 performance of Les Arts Florissants conducted by William Christie at Lincoln Center, the New York Times wrote “Claire Meghnagi had the most strikingly operatic sound, in terms of projection, power and suppleness, qualities she put to superb use in the Prologue from Monteverdi’s ‘Orfeo’…”

Meghnagi has also shone in Bononcini’s Il Trionfo de Camilla in Boston. Other roles include Le Feu/La Princesse (L’enfant et les Sortileges), The Granddaughter (contemporary opera And The Rat Laughed) with the Israeli Chamber Orchestra in Israel and Poland, and Zerlina (Don Giovanni) with Haifa Symphony Orchestra. An experienced concert singer, she has been a guest with Israel’s leading orchestras and performed world premieres of Israeli composers like Ella Milch-Sheriff and Gil Shohat.

Born to a musical family, Meghnagi began singing at a young age, often with her father, celebrated cantor Isacco Meghnagi.

“I always sang. I’m told I used to sing all these old Italian songs with my father that he taught me,” recalled Meghnagi, who added that opera only came into the picture later.

“I started focusing on opera when I was 17 – I found that my voice was very high. But I only took it seriously after my army service when I began studying at the Rubin Academy of Music.”

She continued her studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, and along with her husband, cellist Zvi Orlianski, returned to Israel in 2005.

A good will ambassador

“I think we have a high caliber of musicians and singers in Israel. Even when I was in Boston I found the best musicians were from Israel. I really think we’re raising a great generation of young singers,” said Meghnagi.

While Meghnagi and Orlianski have their hands filled with their careers and raising their five-year-old daughter and a nine-month baby girl, they have still found the time for some collaborating of the musical kind.

“We do sometimes just play together for fun. But we also perform a lot together, and have recitals,” said Meghnagi. “It was a little difficult in the beginning, to have your life partner as a musical partner and establishing those boundaries. But when you overcome that, you can achieve some beautiful moments.”

For Meghnagi, the Cardiff Festival is a new beautiful moment in her career and life, not only for her musical accomplishments, but strengthening her Israeli identity.

“The festival has made me very patriotic. They honored us in Cardiff, hanging the Israeli flag on the side of the castle – it made me so proud. My own flag, it was beautiful in a way I hadn’t noticed before. It was such a thrill,” she said.

“People have approached me here, asking for autographs, and when they hear I’m Israeli, they go, ‘Israel is wonderful.’ I absolutely feel like a good will ambassador.”