By Francine Wolfisz and Georgia Walters
Dynamic, charismatic and passionate, French-born opera singer David Serero has performed all over the world with his wide-ranging repertoire, which stretches from classic opera to Broadway and from traditional Yiddish songs to World music.
He has featured in more than 600 concerts around the globe and graced the stages of the Opera Garnier in Paris, Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, the Eiffel Tower and most recently Bush Hall in London.
The success of the 32-year-old baritone, who was born in Paris to a traditional Jewish family, is all the more remarkable given that he was deaf until the age of 11.
But he was musical from a young age and describes the piano as his “first companion”. With a passion for music, he pursued a career in opera and studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory in Russia, before starting a stage career in New York, where he appeared in Broadway as Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
The talented singer recently released a duet of the French classic Autumn Leaves (Les Feuilles Mortes) with Jermaine Jackson.
The Jewish News caught up with the attractive Frenchman to talk about his background, his passion for music, and the release of his debut solo album, All I Care About Is Love.
Pulse: Can you tell us a little about your background?
DS: I was born in Paris and now live between Paris and London. I am single and looking! I grew up in a traditional Jewish family. My father, Marcel, is Sephardic and comes from Morocco, while my mother, Shoshana, is Ashkenazi and is originally from Israel.
Pulse: How has your Jewishness influenced your musical talents?
DS: When I perform I always have Jewish music – that’s a way of showing my Jewishness. I feel it is my duty as an artist is to promote this music, whether in Ladino or Yiddish. It’s a real pleasure to sing this wonderful and timeless repertoire.
Pulse: You were actually born deaf, but after many operations you began to hear again. Can you tell us what it was like for you as a child growing up with a disability?
DS: I had an infection when I was a kid – it turned out to be infected otitis. In the old days people were getting deaf just from that – the most famous person is Beethoven – but today it can be treated with antibiotics if caught in time. The doctor finally discovered I had this when I was 11. People thought I was shy, that I couldn’t understand them, or had learning difficulties, but the truth was that I just couldn’t hear them.
I like to think it’s like a fairytale; it turned out well in the end. I want to be an example for all people with a handicap and show them if you have the desire to do something then it’s possible.
One of the charities I support is the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where I visit the children and sing to them. One of them is severely disabled and he is painting, playing piano, everything. He told me that in his mind the true handicapped people are those with both arms, both legs and everything who then do nothing with it. I thought that was so sweet.
I used to hide this disability, but now I want people to know about it. It’s important I tell them what I went through.
From the age of two months to 11, I was deaf. I had a very difficult childhood in that sense. My school friends considered me like an alien, I was alone all the time, I wasn’t sociable and I couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying.
Pulse: Despite your hearing problems, you began playing the piano when you were 13?
Yes, my first friend was the piano. I would put my ears to the piano to hear the acoustic vibration. That was the first time I could feel something. I could have a dialogue with the piano and in that sense it was my first companion!
Pulse: Are you free from hearing issues today?
I had many surgeries from 11 until I was 20. I had another one just a few years ago. I always need a scan once a year, but thank God, I am free from any more problems.
I have had to work hard on my diction. I couldn’t speak – that is why my voice is so loud when I sing! For me, being deaf was like when you have headphones on and you are trying to speak at the same time – you automatically become louder!
Pulse: When did you realise you had musical talent?
I would never be pretentious and say I had musical talent. I wanted to be a singer and I wanted to be a musician. Today I advise young singers and go to hospitals and schools to show them that when you have dreams it can happen, it is possible.
I realised this even more when I did a duet with Jermaine Jackson. I was so proud to be with a Jackson, someone I had listened to in my childhood. To perform with him a classic French song was amazing.
I am so glad I found music and I will never thank God enough for that.
Pulse: Is anyone else in your family musical?
No! My father, Marcel, is in kosher catering! It was hard for me when I told my father I wanted to be a singer, not a cook. He looked at me like I was the first Jew to travel in space! So a few weeks later I asked him again and he was fine about it.
Pulse: What concerts have you got coming up this month?
I performed for Shimon Peres for Bastille Day, on 14 July last year, and I’m going to perform again on 14 July in Tel Aviv, in front of Peres, Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
Pulse: You began singing when you were 16. What do you like about it?
I’m passionate about people – for me singing helps me express the love I have for people. I have a wide repertoire to suit the audience connected to it. Some people don’t like opera, but I think of it like gefilte fish – you might hate it until it’s in your mouth! It’s the same way with opera. I try to present it in a new way and get more people to like it. The more people I sing for, the more times I am on stage, the happier I am.
Pulse: Your new album is called All I Care About Is Love – are you a romantic at heart?
Oh yes, too much! My album is all about love, and the title is taken from a song from the musical Chicago. Love is really what unites us. If we have people hating each other for whatever reason, it’s because they don’t know how to express their feelings.
Pulse: You speak and sing in many languages, including English, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, Spanish, German, Czech, Armenian, Yiddish and Ladino! Which is your favourite?
I love to sing in all languages, but especially English. You can feel the poetry of the English language – it’s so elegant!
Pulse: What is the secret to your success?
I have a thirst to learn everything about everything and be the best. Cyrano de Bergerac had this big noise, so he decided to be the best in everything. I say we are all Cyrano. We all have something that doesn’t put us at our best. We all feel like that. So I wanted to know about everything, to learn languages, to learn about music, art, to explore as much as I can, because I had been prohibited from it for so long. Now that the world is open, I want to experience it all.
Serero’s album, All I Care About Is Love, is out now. Details: www.davidserero.com