In the Limelight: Momeleh –stirring musical tribute and homage by mezzo-soprano, Cheri Rose Katz- a celebration of family and Jewish heritage

Momeleh- an album by mezzo-soprano, Cheri Rose Katz
Tracks: 18 songs- 18 represents “Chai” (Hebrew) – “life”
Release date: May 1, 2022. Pre-order from April 17

Momeleh: Will be available for purchase on all major platforms such as Spotify – smart link: https://cherirosekatz.hearnow.com/momeleh
 

Mezzo-soprano, Cheri Rose Katz is releasing her 18-track album, Momeleh on May 1, 2022. The album is the American born opera singer’s tribute to her mother, whose lifelong search for her son, was chronicled in the 2021 book, by Gabrielle Glaser, American Baby. Glaser unpacked the scurrilous adoption industry in America in the 1960s. Momeleh is a Yiddish term of endearment, affection and respect for a “mother”- also spelt mamaleh. It may also denote “little mother”. Margaret – the mother – momelah -of Cheri Rose Katz- relinquished her infant son – and tried desperately to search for her son and supply the adoption agency with essential family medical information. As chronicled in the book, mother and son (Stephen were eventually united, shortly before he died.  Stephen was a cantor [a singer of liturgical music, who leads prayer services]. His sister, Cheri Rose Katz, is an opera singer. Music is a leitmotif in the family. Katz and her brother had three precious weeks together (face to face), to catch up on a lifetime of separation. In Momelah, Katz also pays homage to her grandparents who were Holocaust survivors and she references herself. The album is an expression of her love for her own young daughter. Katz was born in the USA but holds dual citizenship –American and Austrian. Before the global Covid pandemic, she was based in Europe and sang extensively in Berlin. The birth of her daughter, ignited the Momelah project. I connected with Katz, after reading American Baby. She talks about the intensely personal journey of Momeleh and her hope that the album will be a beacon for others – finding hope, healing and succour- through the healing power of heritage music.

Jewish heritage –healing and hope- through music


The album is available on May 1, 2022. Pre-order available April 17th. You have been releasing single tracks from the album and by early April, you have already had a listenership of over 50 thousand on Spotify.  Cheri Rose Katz:  “Yes, that is huge for the classical music sector.  There are 18 songs on the Momeleh soundtrack to represent Chai– life”: The month of May is Jewish American Heritage Month and Mother’s Day. May 1 was my dad’s birthday, and when my brother reunited with my mom. This project combines heart and love. Through music, we create healing and hope. By all listening…you complete that journey. Momeleh tells the story through the music of my family tree. The languages on the album also represent my family history and culture. There are Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Czech, Spanish and Italian songs. I lived and worked in Germany and Europe for almost twenty years. During that time, I searched and explored my ancestry. I travelled during engagements and saw where my grandparents and great-grandparents lived and what suffering they had all endured. The ones who survived eventually came to America and built new lives. After living overseas for many years and exploring my roots. I was able to bring all my emotions and rich family history together to create Momeleh.  I would love it if all this music were brought into the mainstream and documented in Jewish history.”

The soundtrack of a mother’s love

Are the songs Jewish traditional and a combination of your own songs? “The album, Momeleh, is a musical soundtrack that tells the story of my family tree and our rich Jewish heritage. It centres around the love of a mother and her children. It encompasses Yiddish and Hebrew music- some lovely classic lullabies in different foreign languages. I have written three original pieces. You are My Everything and Layla Tov [Good Night in Hebrew) is written for my daughter. Searching is written for my mother, father, brother and the adoption community.” 

Jazz, cantorial and folk music and pop influences

You are a mezzo-soprano. Would you describe the album as opera? Cheri Rose Katz: “I am classically trained and have performed internationally as a dramatic mezzo-soprano (Deutsche Oper Berlin, Baden Baden Festival, Teatro Reggio Emilia, Berliner Philharmoniker). However, this album has brought me back to my roots of singing jazz (Summertime), Jewish cantor music (Avinu Malkeinu), folk music (Yankele), pop music (You are My everything). I used to write music as a young child and did not encounter any opera until my college years. I would call it a musical soundtrack that has something for everyone- some crossover musical theatre/opera, folk, pop, etc. The album has something for everyone who enjoys music.”

Tribute album- family, ancestry, Jewish heritage and history

Would you describe the album – as a tribute to your mom? Cheri Rose Katz: “The album is a tribute to my extraordinary mom. It is also a tribute to my wonderful father and brother -who have passed away- and my grandparents, who survived the holocaust. I started singing over in Europe in 1998, right after graduating from the university. I was always intrigued by my family ancestry, and after living and working all over Europe while performing in opera houses, I finally received my Austrian citizenship in 2012. It meant the world to me to reclaim my citizenship.” 

The chain of being a momelah

You are also a mother – of a young child – so are you also signifying yourself as a momelah? Cheri Rose Katz: “Of course. The birth of my daughter is what sparked this whole project. I love being a momeleh to her, and we are instilling Jewish family traditions weekly.”

Documenting family memories through music

When did the process begin to create this album? Cheri Rose Katz: “While I was pregnant and singing concerts in my sixth month, I decided I wanted to make a recording of lullabies and songs I would sing to my baby. That was back in 2016 in London. The thought process and some music were selected over the past few years and have evolved a lot. I lived in Europe singing overseas for almost 20 years and had my journey, researching my ancestry, and always found it intriguing: Wonderful family memories that I wanted to document through music.” 

Creating Momelah during the pandemic

How long did it take to put the project together? Cheri Rose Katz: “I would say overall, completing this project took over five years. Originally, we had planned to record in a beautiful temple or concert hall, but when the pandemic hit, everything shut down. Everyone involved with this project only met on zoom calls until vaccines were made available and it was safe. So, we did not start any in-person rehearsals until May 2021. The pandemic was challenging, with Covid variants popping up and venues closing down. At that stage, I decided to do an at-home recording in an old Roosevelt House.  If you’ve never been to Roosevelt, New Jersey, it’s quite a treat and a historic town, composed of an artist colony.  I hired a recording engineer to come in and record us, and then I went into the studio and produced all the recordings. I built my own production company -Weltfarben Musik.  I decided to learn from the best in the business, and attend Berklee College of Music/SNHU for my MBA. I am a vocalist and performer, and this is my first time entering the production realm, but it was a must as it is my family’s personal story. All involved in this project have known my family for years and read an article in the New York Times and the bookAmerican Baby. Alan Mallach, a Roosevelt resident, is the pianist. Evelyn Estava is the gifted violinist. Ira Siff – acclaimed performer, master teacher, commentator at Metropolitan Opera- is the artistic advisor of the album. Siff helped me pull all my ideas and emotions together to make this dream a reality. I have been working with Ira since 2005. He has been a mentor to me all these years. He is a gifted vocal and acting coach. We met weekly via zoom and would musically shape and arrange each vocal selection that you will hear on the album. Ira’s ear is tremendous, and he reviewed all the recordings after I produced them. I am very thankful to Ira, Alan, and Evelyn for making Momeleh come to life.”

Hope and healing through music – knowing history and fighting for freedom

Can you talk about how the making of the album was influenced by you finding out that your mother had given up her son – your brother for adoption? In her 2021 book, American Baby, Gabrielle Glaser exposes the adoption sector in America. She writes about the reuniting of your mom, Margaret, with your brother who was born in 1961 but given up for adoption as your mother’s parents – your grandparents – thought that was socially expedient. They had fled from Nazi Europe and there were lots of issues which fed into the pressure that they put on your parents. Cheri Rose Katz: “My mom’s life story, documented in American Baby, definitely influenced all the music you will hear on the soundtrack, Momeleh. The theme centers around a mother’s love for her children. More than half the music is filled with Hebrew and Yiddish lullabies to represent my ancestry and signify hope and healing, as we shall never forget those lost in the Holocaust. Today, one can see how important it is to know history and fight for freedom. Look at what is happening today in Ukraine.” 

Opening up sealed adoption records is a human rights issue

Your mom has become a beacon and activist in excavating through the adoption industry in America?  Cheri Rose Katz: “My mother is the epitome of all the good things that make up a Jewish momeleh. She is kind, sweet, strong, intelligent, loving, and funny- an extraordinary woman and mother. What happened in 1961, to have your child taken from you and then to have all doors closed forever, is horrific and heart-wrenching. We know that was the time and is documented in history. Over three million women had their children ripped from them because of the times painted with shame and an adoption industry built on money and greed. Many now refer to my mom as the American Philomena [Greek “powerful love”], because she was brave enough to share her story with the world. We are collaborating with the adoption community to help open up these sealed records. This is a human rights issue, as people are not secrets and should know where they come from. My family is kind, strong, and filled with love. My mom and I wish to help open up the closed records still worldwide. I do not understand how so many states today still have sealed records. It is a fight every day for the adoption community- whether to find clarity for their health records or the basic human rights issue of retrieving their original birth certificate. I wrote the song, Searching, as a dedication to my mom, brother, and the adoption community.”

Three weeks catching up on a lifetime of separation

From what I gathered from reading the book, American Baby, the news was a total revelation to you and your siblings- finding out that your parents had another child – before they married? Cheri Rose Katz: “Finding out about my brother was surreal and obviously shocking. As soon as I found out I wrote to him from Europe daily and then took my mom to meet him in Portland. We spent three weeks catching up on a lifetime of separation. We became incredibly close and spoke daily about our family and music. He was a cantor, until he became very ill. I miss him very much and this album is dedicated to his memory, as well.” As a mother, I can imagine that it was intensely emotional to ponder how your own mother had to relinquish her own child? “Absolutely- what my mother and all the birth parents of those times endured is horrific. When I became a mother, my whole being changed. My daughter is my ‘Everything’. Being a mother is the biggest blessing in the world to me. There is an absolute special bond between every mother and child. A beautiful innate bond, and to be able to experience that is the greatest gift G-d gave me.”


Momelah on tour


Do you plan to perform the album to a live audience? Cheri Rose Katz: “With both American and Austrian citizenship, it makes it much easier to travel and work both abroad and in the USA. So, when times are safe and not awful with Covid, yes, I will continue to do tour worldwide.” How about a South African tour? “Yes, we are now discussing booking concerts and touring with this lovely programme. I have many friends and colleagues in Cape Town, so I would love to tour there. It’s a beautiful place, with a wealth of talent.” Anything else to add about Momelah and your work in general? “My hope with this soundtrack is to provide hope and healing. It’s a unique work and story because it encompasses many different musical genres and languages and is filled with history. Most importantly, the project is the ultimate labour of love for me and is dedicated to my family tree! It is created to move people emotionally. I hope it brings the listener fond memories of hugging their children, Momelehs, Omas, etc. The smell of challah and matzo ball soup cooking for Shabbat. At the heart of the soundtrack is: A mother’s love.”

Liner notes- Momeleh- by Cheri Rose Katz

A mother’s love for her children is everything and forever. Mezzo-soprano, Cheri Rose Katz, (Deutsche Oper Berlin, Baden Baden Festival, Teatro Reggio Emilia, Berliner Philharmoniker) takes us on a journey of her family’s rich history of Jewish tradition through this remarkable collection, lovingly called “Momeleh.” The music encompasses a Jewish section featuring both classics and lesser-known treasures. Some beautiful lullabies in different languages complete the theme of a mother’s love for her children. Katz has also contributed some heartfelt original pieces. While the inspiration for this project was first and foremost the birth of Katz’s, daughter, the album is dedicated to her mother, Margaret Erle Katz, referred to by many as the ‘American Philomena’. Margaret’s life story is documented in the book American Baby by Gabrielle Glaser. Katz comes from a line of Holocaust survivors, and it was important to her to honour them and the Jewish community. Ira Siff (acclaimed performer, master teacher, Commentator: Metropolitan Opera) is the artistic advisor of the album. Siff was instrumental in putting this treasure of a project together. Scholar, author, Alan Mallach, is the pianist. Gifted violinist, Evelyn Estava, completes the trio offering this musical soundtrack that takes us on a journey of a mother’s love and the healing power of music. 

Liner notes – supplied.   

❇Featured image: Cheri Rose Katz. Images supplied.