Opera Goes to Temple: Five Years and Counting at Rockdale

OG2T 2016 - Shir Shalom Choir and Contralto La'Shelle Allen - Rockdale Temple

By Max Joseph Bleich

Something canorous and beautiful can be heard beyond the towering marble walls, ornate fixtures and Judaica of Rockdale Temple’s iconic sanctuary. It isn’t a Rock Shabbat service, the enchanting soprano of the soloist or the sweet spell of the choir. It isn’t only these sounds. Instead, it is all of them, joined together in a melodic mix of worship service, classical music and opera. The sounds you’re hearing are Opera Goes to Temple.

For the past half of a decade, celebrated acts from across the country have gathered at Rockdale to celebrate a beautiful summer Cincinnati evening of sacred, contemporary, and classical music- albeit with a Jewish twist.

It all started five and a half years ago when Rockdale Temple Music Director and renowned soloist Mary Southworth was contacted by Cincinnati Opera Director of Community Relations Tracy Wilson.

“Tracy was the force behind the concert ‘Opera Goes to Church’, the idea being to connect community to opera and classical — most of us singers sang in church or temples throughout our lives and it was to be a bit of ‘coming home to sing,” said Southworth in an interview.

“Tracy told me on the phone that February day that she really wanted to expand the idea into temples in Cincinnati and was I interested in collaborating. I said ‘YES!’ and immediately contacted Rabbi Coran about the possibility.”

Opening with the ominous A.W. Binder’s “Prelude” performed by Keith Eiser, the organ wails into an interpolation of Jeff Klepper’s “Nigun”, performed by the Rock Shabbat Band. The audience joins in, every voice raising the wordless melody into a truly ethereal experience. Just a taste of what’s to come.

“Opera Goes to Temple brings many non-Jewish music lovers into the synagogue to learn something about Jewish music and worship. And everyone learns that opera is magnificent and nothing to be afraid of,” said Dan Hoffheimer, Past President of the Rockdale Temple Board of Directors.

A bittersweet ode to Jewish civilization is beautifully captured in Louis Proske’s performance of Joseph Achron’s Hebrew Melody. Both sentiments of melancholy and exultation can be heard and felt from this beautiful piece.

“There was one moment during Louis Proske’s performance of ‘Hebrew Melody’ that time just stopped — it was breathtaking. Music has that power.” Southworth recalled.

“Variety” is a notable buzzword for the array of performances that could be heard that night. Each piece appropriately displayed the eclectic catalogue of sounds that Jewish musicians have composed throughout history.

Hoffheimer, a passionate fan of opera and Jewish music was especially pleased with “Heal Us Now”, a song of healing featuring Rockdale Temple’s Shir Shalom Choir.

“Opera Goes to Temple has made Rockdale Temple the premier destination for experiencing one of Cincinnati’s most venerable arts organizations within a Jewish context,” Hoffheimer said.

“Inspiring, elevating, and filled with spirit,” are just some of the choice words Rabbinic Intern BaileyRomano had for the event. “Everyone was clapping, singing along, getting into it. It was nice to see people in the sanctuary clapping, enjoying the music, and participating together.”

Romano sang alongside Rock Shabbat Band Director Rabbi Meredith Kahan accompanied by pianist Susan Ostreicher. Romano considers Opera Goes to Temple to be more than an annual gathering of musicians and the performance of beautiful music, instead referring to it as, “a special opportunity.”

It was an opportunity to gather together in a holy space and an opportunity to celebrate what unites us as human beings, not only as people of faith, but as people.

“Opera Goes to Temple and Opera Goes to Church shows what we have in common, not what divides us. Also, the music is really good,” she chuckled.

Opera Goes to Temple sold out this year, as it has for every year since it launched in 2012.

“This is powerful to me because it means that this particular concert continues to impact people. Throughout the year I am continually surprised when people stop me to tell me that they were at one of the concerts and how much they loved and were moved by it,” indicated Southworth.

She continued, “I feel so blessed that I am part of Rockdale’s music and feel ever grateful to be singing there. OG2T has become a way of bridging my own operatic and solo training to singing and making music in such a meaningful way.”