Cantor and spouse to present ‘voices of love’
Soprano duo aim for all the right notes to benefit rabbinical academy
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
Singing of the many ways love can be expressed, Cantor Meredith Greenberg of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield will give a concert with her wife, Leora Perlman, a soprano and psychotherapist, on Sunday evening, June 5, at a private home in Montclair. They will be accompanied by renowned pianist Rohan De Silva.
All proceeds from “Kolot Rabim L’Ahavah: Love Has Many Voices” will benefit the Academy for Jewish Religion, the school in Yonkers, NY, where Greenberg was invested as a cantor in 2009. The event will feature songs by Mozart, Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Cole Porter, and the French romantic composer Ernest Chausson; the numbers will include duets from operas, musical theater numbers, Jewish folk songs, and Jewish liturgical works.
Perlman and Greenberg spoke with NJJN from their home in Montclair. De Silva took part in an e-mail exchange in the midst of his travels.
The concert will offer a chance for the pair, both sopranos, to sing duets together as a couple. It’s something they tried for the first time in front of an audience at a concert they gave together three years ago at Ner Tamid.
At that concert, instead of their usual West Side Story selection — the duet between Anita and Maria (“A Boy Like That”) — they offered a number sung by the play’s young lovers, Tony and Maria. And at one point, Perlman changed the name she was singing from “Tony” to “Meredith.” “It was more in line with who we are with each other,” Greenberg said. “That felt bold. We went there, and it was cool.”
Perlman occasionally sings with the cantor as a guest on the bima during High Holy Day services at Ner Tamid. Greenberg described the sensation of those occasions. “Even if we’re singing about God and there’s nothing about relationships, there’s a feeling of connection, love, and intimacy,” Greenberg said. “We’ve been singing together for so long, we understand each other’s voices and musicality so well.”
It was the feeling of being embraced by the community that gave them the latitude to be true to themselves musically, said Greenberg, something not every gay couple enjoys, particularly as clergy. That evening in 2013 was also the first time Greenberg offered operatic pieces in concert. “It was the first time I used what I call my ‘big-girl voice’ for Ner Tamid. I had never sung that kind of repertoire for them,” she said. “We had a lot of fun because not only am I embraced as a spiritual leader, but as a family we feel we are embraced and loved.”
Greenberg and Perlman are the parents of three children, 12, 10, and five.
Buoyed by the success of that concert, Greenberg and Perlman don’t plan to play it safe with the roles they are choosing this time around.
“Love Has Many Voices” will feature a repertoire of duets that explore the notion of the love song. “In ancient days, the love song was between human beings and God,” said Greenberg. “Now, it’s human to human, but it’s actually the same type of song. They all carry the theme of love and passion and intimacy.
“We’ll explore the thread of emotion and commitment no matter who the object of love is.”
Perlman said she has known De Silva “forever”; he regularly accompanies her father — Israeli violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman — in worldwide recitals as well as every other notable violinist on the concert stage today. De Silva, said Greenberg, “heard us sing and has accompanied us in a casual way from time to time.” Last year he offered to accompany them “any time,” she said, and “this is the perfect opportunity.” They worked around De Silva’s extensive travel schedule. “It’s unbelievable to have such an exquisite pianist play for you,” said Greenberg.
Perlman, who is now a psychotherapist with a practice in Montclair, no longer sings professionally. She acknowledged that it takes time to prepare. “You can’t run a marathon without training,” she said, but, she added, “If you’re a runner, you probably can do a couple of miles. Your muscles do remember, but it’s the endurance….”
She is looking forward to the concert, Perlman said, but she doesn’t miss singing professionally. “This is just one night. It’s joyful without the psychological pressure of doing it to earn a living.”
The pair met as “budding opera singers,” studying with the same teacher in the 1990s, though at different schools — Greenberg at the Manhattan School of Music and Perlman at the Juilliard School.
They spent summers performing at the Chautauqua Institution, a nonprofit education center in upstate New York, and it wasn’t long before they became a couple and began giving concerts together. They formed Divas Delite, a business offering both catering and operatic entertainment.
Eventually, the two set out on different professional paths — Perlman left singing to get a master’s degree in social work and Greenberg fell hard for the cantorate.