Sunday, May 4, 2014

Shira Bitan and Salome Rebello perform scenes from Grigori Frid's "Diary of Anne Frank"

In anticipation of Holocaust Memorial Day, nine scenes from the mono-opera “The Diary of Anne
Frank” (1975) by Grigori Frid were performed by soprano Shira Bitan and pianist Salome Rebello on April 27th 2014 at the Moreshet Yisrael Synagogue, Jerusalem.

Growing up in Jerusalem, Shira Bitan sang in the Ankor Youth Choir, taking voice lessons with Cilla Grossmeyer. As a student of Pnina Schwartz and Anat Efrati, she undertook Bachelor- and Master’s degrees in voice at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, also completing an undergraduate degree in orchestral conducting. Shira Bitan has soloed in operas and has participated in master classes. Her repertoire ranges from early Baroque music to that of the 21st century. A member of several ensembles, she is also active in promoting awareness to contemporary works of young composers in Israel and further afield.

Having graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Mumbai University, Salome Rebello immigrated to Israel from Mumbai, India, in 2008.She completed her B.Mus. at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, majoring in piano performance (Revital Hachamoff) and choral conducting. She is currently completing a Master’s degree in choral conducting under Prof. Stanley Sperber. A professional choral singer, Salome Rebello conducts two choirs in Jerusalem and teaches piano.

Born in St. Petersburg, the prolific composer Grigori Frid (1915-2012) composed in several genres, from “social Realism” to twelve-tone and other contemporary styles. His oeuvre includes three symphonies, several instrumental concertos, music for theatre and cinema, stage music as well as vocal- and chamber music. In addition to composing, Frid was a painter, also writing a number of books of recollections. His best known musical works are his two chamber operas – “The Letters of van Gogh” (1975) for baritone and chamber ensemble and “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1968), a monodrama of 21 scenes for soprano and chamber orchestra. Completed within five months, both music and libretto to “Anna Frank” were written by Frid, interpolating Anne Frank’s original text. The opera was premiered with piano accompaniment at the All-Union House of Composers in Moscow in 1972. Drafted into the army, Frid experienced the horrors of the Second World War first hand. In his introduction to the “mono-opera”, as he referred to it, he wrote “Racism, violence and anti-Semitism were not just bare words for me.”

Born in Frankfurt in 1929, Anne Frank moved to Amsterdam in 1933 with her family. By May 1940, they were trapped in Amsterdam by German occupation of the Netherlands. In 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms in the building where Anne’s father worked. Two years later, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Anne and her sister were taken to Bergen-Belsen, where they both died of typhus in 1945. Penned in Dutch, Anne wrote the diary at age 13 when in hiding in Holland. Her dream was to publish it after the war. Frid wrote the opera as a series of brief scenes, such as “Birthday”, “School”, “Summons to the Gestapo”, “The Hideout” and scenes dealing more with thoughts, memory and fantasy. Not only depicting the girl’s fate, the diary entries show the mental and psychological pressure under which the girl is living but also her positive character and will to live. Frid makes use of tonality as well as twelve-tone technique and aleatoric moments.

Shira Bitan and Salome Rebello chose to perform the work in German. The audience was provided with the text printed in German, Hebrew and English. Bitan was impressive in the manner in which she brought each individual scene to life: with a sense of girlish freedom, flexibility of voice and of facial expression, Bitan revealed the young girl’s poetic and expressive strength as she presented her inner life in the lyrical narrative. The thorny musical text, with its angular lines and sudden leaps, its musical language colored with hints of Shostakovich, Weill, Hindemith, jazz, etc., makes great demands on the singer. Bitan managed the technical- and emotional tour-de-force admirably, its tender, anxious, comical and fearful moments, its fantasies, its mood swings, the girl’s awakening of feelings of love for Peter, moments of horror and also nostalgia. The piano part was handled no less skillfully by Rebello: the instrumental text frequently sets the scene, providing a varied, vivid and powerful dramatic backdrop, at times laughing and joking along with the sung text, at times fraught with warnings of what was to come, its ghoulish messages contrasted against the girl’s optimism. Rebello collaborated closely with Bitan, her sensitive touch and imagination combining with her skilful use of pianistic timbres. Rendering the scintillating octaves of the Finale menacing and powerful, despite their weightlessness, the long, thought-provoking piano epilogue concluding the work in haunting sounds, as it echoed Anne Frank’s life philosophy:
“I truly believe that nature can redeem all suffering. When I look at the sky, then I think to myself that all these horrors will have an end and peace and serenity will again rule the land…As long as we keep looking fearlessly to the sky…”

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