Sons of Sepharad | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Sons of Sepharad 

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Cantor Alberto Mizrahi has the kind of rich, ardent voice and heart-on-his-sleeve bel canto delivery that could make an Italian tenor envious--and in fact he did court the stage early in his career, performing in both operas and musicals. But his theological and cantorial training--to say nothing of his love for Jewish music--turned out to have the stronger pull on him, and in the early 1990s he became chief cantor of Chicago's Anshe Emet Synagogue. Though Mizrahi continues to venture into classical music (including a recent part in a Penderecki oratorio at Symphony Center) and even pop (the inevitable Three Jewish Tenors), he's best noted for his contributions to the Jewish liturgical repertoire--not only has he revived a number of pieces unperformed for a hundred years or more, but modern composers have written works especially for him. With the New York-based Chorale Mystique the Greek native has recorded Jewish prayers and chants that span centuries, using a variety of styles (and languages--he can sing in nine) to illustrate the continuity between vanished and living traditions. And as a member of the ensemble Sons of Sepharad--for this concert the lineup also includes two Moroccan emigres, baritone Gerard Edery and lyric tenor Aaron Bensoussan, who play guitar and oud respectively; Rex Benincasa, a master of Middle Eastern percussion; clarinetist Francois Houle; and oud player George Mgrdichian--Mizrahi takes a similarly eclectic and historical approach. True to their name, the Sons of Sepharad specialize in the music of the Sephardim, Jews exiled from Spain in 1492 who eventually settled in Turkey, North Africa, and the Americas, among other places. Sephardic songs, passed on and subtly varied over the generations, are for the most part earthy and frank, whether drowning in sorrow or indulging in fleeting joy. Some are in Hebrew, others in adopted tongues like Ladino (or Judeo-Spanish), Turkish, Greek, and Arabic; the songs' rhythms and melodies likewise reflect influences from all points along the Sephardic diaspora--castanets and guitar from Spain, for instance, and oud from the Middle East. The Sons of Sepharad will perform a wide range of folk and liturgical selections, and the concert will be recorded for commercial release. Sunday, March 3, 3 PM, Anshe Emet Synagogue, 3760 N. Pine Grove; 773-868-5126.

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