by Myra Chanin
Tamara Gverdtsiteli is a an accomplished, Georgian-born, Jewish singer, actress and composer who unveiled the world premiere of her latest program, Mamele, The Mother’s Eyes to a very appreciate, packed-house audience at Carnegie Hall. A handsome, well-dressed and dramatic mezzo-soprano with a clear and steady delivery, she paid tribute to her and her conductor Alexander Tsaliuk’s Jewish heritage by featuring one dozen recently rediscovered Yiddish standards before moving on Georgian, Russian, French and Italian melodies as well as several of Ms. Gverdtsiteli’s own, best-known songs. The 53-member Cherry Orchard Festival Symphony Orchestra and nine members of the Moscow Male Jewish Cappella choir ably accompanied her.
Ms. Gverdtsiteli has been recognized as one of the most popular Russian performers in the world , earning accolades from the New York Times, who declared her “the Russian Edith Piaf.” And she certainly lived up to the moniker during the second half of her program. Her familiar Yiddish folk and theater songs included the sing-along Hasidic melody, “Chiribim, Chiribom;” hits by Jewish musical greats including Joseph Rumshinsky’s “Shloymele;” Abraham Goldfaden’s “Lullaby;” Cantor Moshe Oysher’s ‘I Wish;” and the original version of Alexander Olshanetsky’s “I Love You Much to Much,” which spent considerable time on the Hit Parade after the Barry Sisters popularized their English translation.
Other recognizable tunes were the famous folksong/summer overnight camp favorite, “Tum-Balalaika” (a riddle song: e.g. “what can burn without ending? Love, naturally!”); the best Mother’s Day present for any Jewish mother, “A Yiddishe Mame;” and a de rigueur wedding freylekh, Abe Schwartz’s “Di Grine Kuzine (My Greenhorn Cousin),” which was turned into a big American hit by the Andrews Sisters. Naturally, she concluded the Jewish half of the program with the Israeli anthem, “Jerusalem of Gold.”
The second half of the concert was more varied. Ms. Gverdtsiteli began with a selection of Edith Piaf favorites which she sang not only well, but with impressive feeling. Next, she provided her own piano accompaniment to her imposing composition, “Georgian Suite.” I was not familiar with the other Russian songs she sang, but found them quite melodic and her stagecraft compelling. In this mix, were two Broadway favorites “Sunrise, Sunset,” (alas, credited to the wrong composer) and the Gershwins’ “Man I Love.” After the Italian “Quarda Che Luna,” the program concluded with a Russian son’s tribute to a Russian “Mother’s Eyes.”
The audience demanded several encores, which Ms. Gverdtsiteli happily supplied, delighted to be welcomed so favorably in such an important venue.
I was particularly impressed by the incessant floral tributes. How many? As many as you’d might find at a minor Mafioso’s granddaughter’s first communion. Each was personally handed to Ms. Gverdtsiteli over the footlights of the stage and graciously acknowledged by her. With thanks to the help of her beaming Maestro she found spots to stash them around the conductor’s platform.
The performance took place on June 1 in the Isaac Stern Auditorium as part of the Cherry Orchard Festival.