A night at the opera was held at Congregation Machane Chodosh in Forest Hills on Monday, August 15.
Around 50 people enjoyed David Babinet singing in Italian, French, Yiddish, Hebrew, and English. Babinet is a classically trained opera singer and a baal t’shuvah.
The concert was in honor of Rabbi Manfred Gans on his second yahrzeit. Rabbi Gans led the congregation from 1950 until retiring in 2010 (see sidebar article).
“Rabbi Gans embodied the traditions of Torah and prayer – with dignity and beauty.” “This was expressed in Rabbi Gans’ love of Jewish music, and art and culture in general,” said Rabbi Yossi Mendelson, successor to Rabbi Gans.
Members of Congregation Machane Chodosh learned Kitzur Shulchan Aruch for months before the concert in the merit of Rabbi Gans.
Rabbi Mendelson said a prayer recognizing the learning, lit a yahrzeit candle, and recited a Keil Malei Rachamim.
The evening’s artist, David Babinet, has performed at the Los Angeles Opera House, Chicago’s Opera Theater, and many other venues.
He has a bachelor’s degree in Music from the University of Colorado, a master’s degree in Music in Voice, and a Diploma in Opera, both from the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Babinet was raised in a secular but very spiritual home in Greenwich, Connecticut. It was “almost new-agey” with parents who were former hippies.
During his first trip to Israel in 2004 to sing Verdi’s Falstaff Opera, he “was just blown away” by the Jewish people and the history there.
“After Israel, I was so thirsty and so hungry for Yiddishkeit,” he said at the concert.
Babinet learned for three years at Yeshiva Tifferet Menachem in Seagate, Brooklyn. He is married with two children, living in East Flatbush.
Introducing his first song, “The Catalogue Aria,” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,” Babinet said he identified with the servant, Leporello. “He awakened a little bit of me, wanting to do things a little better.”
Babinet’s grandmother was a performer in the Yiddish Theater in New York City. “She was like a movie star.”
Babinet sang “A Yiddishe Mama” and “Mammele” – “Yiddish songs that have great respect and admiration for Jewish mothers.”
He sang the long version of “Rumania, Rumania.”
He dedicated the song “La Vie Ein Rose” to his father, who sings this song at family gatherings. “This is a love song to my Dad who taught me so just great, wonderful morals and outlook in the world.”
The Fiddler on the Roof medley – “Tradition,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and “If I Were a Rich Man” – had the audience clapping and singing along.
With David Babinet as baritone and Rabbi Yossi Mendelson as the tenor, they sang the encore, “Bo’i B’Shalom,” using harmonies from Andrea Bocelli’s “Con te Partirò.”
On the piano was Yisroel Edelson, who “worked very closely with Leonard Bernstein for many years,” said Babinet. Edelson’s early musical education was in former Communist Russia.
Long-time Forest Hills resident Herbert Levy said Rabbi Gans “was a real connoisseur” of classical and symphony music. “He would’ve enjoyed the concert.”
Maureen Eoyser, an aide to the Gans family for 22 years, said Rabbi Manfred and Rebbetzin Liselotte Gans enjoyed getting dressed up to go to the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center for classical music.
By David Schneier