Jewish opera singer to perform Yiddish selections at Pittsburgh Opera benefit
The mezzo-soprano, will sing selections ranging from Yiddish traditions and modern Jewish composers to the American songbook.
The voice is a powerful vehicle for the Schneiderman family.
At the Auschwitz concentration camp in the 1940s, Judith Schneiderman — then Judith Rosenberg of Rachov, Czechoslovakia — sang to her Nazi captors to curry favor with them and was awarded with her survival.
Today, Helene Schneiderman, one of Judith’s four children, sings at a German opera house and is coming to Pittsburgh later this month.
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“My mother saved her life by singing,” said Schneiderman, speaking by phone from Stuttgart, Germany. “We grew up without grandparents, aunts, uncles — we grew up knowing our past. It’s with us every day.”
That history informs Schneiderman’s work in opera, and it will inform the selection of pieces for a concert recital set to take place on Oct. 26 in the Steel City.
Schneiderman, a renowned mezzo-soprano, will sing selections ranging from Yiddish traditions and modern Jewish composers to the American songbook at a fundraiser for the Pittsburgh Opera, which is being hosted at the Shadyside home of Nachum Golan and Steve Hough.
While in Pittsburgh, Schneiderman also will sing the role of Marcellina in Pittsburgh Opera’s production of “The Marriage of Figaro,” from Nov. 5-13 at the Benedum Center.
The evening recital, though, will be interesting, Schneiderman told the Chronicle.
She plans to sing in German and Yiddish, to show parallels and similarities between the languages and their compositions, and will do selections from four Yiddish operettas. Schneiderman also will sing selections by Jewish American composers such as George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein for an audience of about 30 people.
“I chose this music because it was close to me,” Schneiderman said.
Judith and Paul Schneiderman, who met at a displaced persons’ camp in Germany after the war, emigrated to the U.S. around 1947 and had four children. Among Schneiderman’s siblings are two doctors and a Hollywood-based artist.
“So many families got started again” at the displaced persons’ camp, Schneiderman said. “Someone who lost everything finds love and, in three weeks, moves to America and starts over.”
The family — Judith was Czech, though her hometown today is in Ukraine; Paul was Polish and a survivor of the Nazi’s Buchenwald and Dachau camps — lived on a farm in Raritan Township, New Jersey. Schneiderman later would go on to first study music at a Princeton, New Jersey, conservatory not far from her home, and moved to Germany to find a permanent spot in a state-funded opera house.
Schneiderman’s parents were supportive of her moving to Germany some 40 years ago despite the traumas they experienced during World War II.
“I felt like it would hurt my parents,” she said. “But they said they loved me more than they hated anybody.”
Judith Schneiderman’s story — which her daughter said resembles “The Diary of Anne Frank,” with a happier ending — was turned into a book more than a decade ago.
And a Schneiderman still sings.
“We are very grateful to Helene for this special recital,” Christian Cox, the Pittsburgh Opera’s director of marketing and communications, said. “Having an artist of her caliber give such a personal performance in an intimate setting is a rare occurrence. It’s going to be a magical evening.”
Schneiderman wholeheartedly agrees.
“It’ll be fun,” she said.
There is still limited seating available for the recital. For more informaion, contact Torey Gricks at 412-281-0912 x 225 or [email protected]. PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.