The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Shakèd Bar, 29, the Israeli soprano and soloist in the December 8 concert of Handel’s Messiah, is her perfect command of American English. This is especially surprising since, until she moved to New York a year ago to enter Juilliard’s Master of Music program, she had never lived in an English-speaking culture.
“Well, of course you pick it up early on, from movies and from songs on the radio, but as a singer, knowing languages is extremely important. Not just the accent and the intonation, but also the phrasing and the cultural context. All those things add to your interpretation of the music.”
This applies just as well to languages she doesn’t know, like Russian.
“Preparing for my parts in a recent Juilliard Liederabend, singing Prokofiev’s 5 songs for Anna Akhmatova and a song by Tchaikovsky, Zabyt tak scoro, I asked my coach to speak the poetry to me. I even learned to read the Cyrillic alphabet, so I could read along with it. Just like in Baroque music, which I love, the phrasing of the text is the basis of the phrasing of the music.”
Born into an artistic family in Jerusalem, Shakèd always knew that she wanted to become a performer. Dancing was her first passion, then singing, and when she joined a professional choir at the age of twelve she decided to make singing her career. But learning about the world outside of music was equally important to her.
“I believe that my education expanded my horizons and enriched me as an artist. I understood the importance of learning different disciplines in order to become a well-rounded person at a very young age. From 3rd to 9th grade I spent one day a week in a special educational program, where I learned philosophy, psychology, physics, math, Japanese, architecture, and art. Looking back at things I did outside of the world of music and singing, I understand that the more experiences I gain in all areas, the more I have to share. I believe that as artists and performers, things creep into our expression and our interpretation even without us knowing. I had a history teacher in high school—the Hebrew University Secondary School—who taught me that history is, more than anything else, interdisciplinary, and that in order to understand an event in history or even in life, one needs to create a web of different aspects and points of view. These are things that shape us as human beings and help us define who we are as people, and as a result, as artists.”
How did living in Israel, a country racked with ongoing conflict, further shape her understanding of the world?
“Growing up in Jerusalem where everyone lives as neighbors and you get to know the people and not only the political slogans, gave me some tools that help me to deal with the complexity of this ongoing conflict, and to see both sides of the equation. Later, during my military service—every Israeli over the age of 18 has to serve for two years—my view and my understanding of the dangers and hardships that people on both sides have to endure only deepened and intensified.”
After her discharge from the army, Shakèd attended the Jerusalem Academy of Music, where she earned a B.A. in Vocal Performance. But she felt very strongly that in order to pursue a professional career, she needed to experience the world outside of Israel.
“At the Academy they teach you the skills you need as a singer, but it’s not career-oriented. The classical music scene in Israel is quite small, especially the opera scene. It’s not an indigenous art form like it is in Italy, where people—even young people—hum or sing along at the opera. If you’re in Israel and you want an international opera career you really have to go abroad.” So she took off for Venice to study with the American voice teacher Sherman Lowe, and after a year she decamped to Berlin for two years.
“What a vibrant cultural city that is! The music scene there is amazing. But as a freelancer, no longer under the wing of an institution, it became clear to me that what I was missing were the skills to put myself out there and manage my career.” Enter Juilliard, the institution par excellence for learning to present oneself, make connections, and manage one’s career.
“I feel I’m in the right place at the right time,” she says. “Juilliard is a very flexible environment, providing counseling and guidance to help you find out who and what you are as a musician. I know it can seem overwhelming to some. But having spent those two years in the army and three years abroad, I’m a bit older than most of the students. This gives me a certain perspective that allows me to navigate myself through the experience with confidence.”
Her performance in Messiah will be Shakèd’s Carnegie Hall debut. Shortly before that, on November 19, she will sing the role of Fillide in William Christie’s production of Handel’s cantata Aminta e Fillide at the Morgan Library. Later in the season, singing Dido in a Juilliard production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, she will start traveling again as they perform in Versailles, London, and Athens.
BIOGRAPHY: Shakèd Bar, Soprano
Hailed by The New York Times as “a voice of exceptional liveliness and presence,” winner of the Selma D and Leon Fishbach Prize at the 2016 Handel Singing Competition in London, Ms. Bar has recently made her debut as Fiordiligi at the Festival della Valle d’Itria’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte under the baton of Maestro Fabio Luisi.
Among the roles she has performed are Poppea and Nerone in Monteverdi’s L'incoronazione di Poppea, Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. She recently made her Juilliard Opera debut, singing the roles of La Grande Prêtresse and Une Chasseresse in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie.
Ms. Bar earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the Jerusalem Academy of Music. In the fall of 2017, Ms. Bar began her Master of Music studies at The Juilliard School under the guidance of Ms. Edith Bers.