Ira Siff is a native New Yorker, who grew up on the standing room line of the old Metropolitan Opera, worshiping the famous singers of the 60’s.
A graduate of the Cooper Union, with a degree in Fine Arts, Mr. Siff began to study voice, and made his debut as a tenor in 1970. For the next decade, he performed roles in opera, operetta and musicals in the New York, at The New York Shakespeare Festival, Circle in the Square, Playwrights Horizons, and many other venues. Turning to cabaret, Ira created an act using vocal parody of opera, jazz, and other styles of music, gaining critical acclaim, and a loyal following.
In 1981, he founded La Gran Scena Opera Co. di New York, the internationally acclaimed travesty troupe, whose gifted falsetto “divas” have spoofed opera with great affection for over two decades, in New York annually, and on tours to some of the great festivals, theatres and opera houses of the world, including Lincoln Center, The Kennedy Center, The Edinburgh Festival, the opera houses of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Caracas, Wiesbaden, Berlin, the Munich Festival, Heidelberg Castle Festival, Venice Festival, Wexford Festival Opera and Belfast Festival (Ireland), Covent Garden Festival, Bloomsbury Theatre (London), Barcelona Olympics Festival of the Arts, Madrid’s Autumn Festival, Uruguay’s Hotel Conrad Theatre (performing the show in Castillian in all three), five extensive tours to The Netherlands, and countless others.
Their DVD, La Gran Scena Live in Munich is a favorite party tape for opera lovers. As Madame Vera, prima “donna” of La Gran Scena, Mr. Siff has appeared as a soloist in parodies of “diva farewell recitals”, called The Annual Farewell, all over the world, and had guested with serious opera companies, as well as appearing on Public Radio for two years in New York City. Madame Vera’s DVD, The Annual Farewell Recital, received rave reviews when it was released by VAI in 2004, and has become a sought-after item in the U.S., U.K., and Europe.
He is pleased and proud that Gran Scena is a favorite of many opera world luminaries, including James Levine, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Renata Scotto, Sherrill Milnes, Aprile Millo, Anna Moffo and many others.
For the past thirty years, Mr. Siff has been a voice teacher and interpretive coach, teaching in New York, Italy, Israel, Holland and China, giving Master Classes for the Met Opera Guild, and was on the faculty of the Renata Scotto Vocal Academy. In 2000, he turned to stage directing, gaining critical acclaim for his production of Tosca, starring Aprile Millo, and his semi-staged Les Huguenots at Carnegie Hall, starring Marcello Giordani. He then went to Copenhagen to stage Offenbach’s La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein. Following Madama Butterfly in Lima, Mr. Siff donned his diva outfit for Gran Scena’s 20th Anniversary Season in New York, then traveled to Boston to direct an award winning production of The Mikado, then back to New York for another Butterfly, to Sarasota Opera to direct a critically acclaimed Lucia di Lammermoor.
He returned to Carnegie Hall in March 2002 for Adriana Lecouvreur, starring Miss Millo, Dolora Zajick and Marcello Giordani, and Lima for Il trovatore. After a highly successful Canterbury Opera, New Zealand Cosi fan tutte, conducted by Richard Bonynge, Ira took La Gran Scena for farewell performances in the Liceu Opera House in Barcelona, and staged Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci for New Jersey State Opera, and Die Fledermaus for Utah Symphony and Opera. He returned to New Zealand for La Traviata, for which he also designed the costumes, to Sarasota to direct Werther, and Carnegie Hall to semi-stage La Gioconda for Aprile Millo. 2004/5 brought critically acclaimed work on La fanciulla del west with Miss Millo for Opera Orchestra of N.Y., Dido and Aeneas for New York Chamber Opera, and Lakme at Sarasota Opera.
May 2005, included three Annual Comeback Recitals by Ira as Madame Vera at Symphony Space, and an appearance as Vera at Avery Fisher Hall hosting and singing in the Music For Life Gala. In July, he directed La sonnambula for Sumi Jo at The Caramoor Festival, followed by La Boheme for Puerto Rico Opera. February 2006 brought a reprise of Lakme starring Eglise Gutierrez, this time in semi-staging at Carnegie Hall. In March 2006, Madame Vera celebrated twenty years of Annual Farewells with three sold-out recitals at Symphony Space (reprised in May, 2007 and 2009).
Ira directed Turandot starring Sharon Sweet in Princeton, March 2007, and in the summer of 2007 at the Tanglewood Music Center, directed Cosi fan tutte, conducted by James Levine. He returned to direct the Opera Scenes program there in 2008, and returned in 2009 to direct Don Giovanni, conducted by Maestro Levine, and in 2010 Ariadne auf Naxos conducted by Christoph von Dohnányi, all to great critical acclaim.
In addition to directing, singing and teaching, Ira Siff writes for Opera News, as a feature writer and CD and DVD critic, and wrote many CD essays for Opera D’Oro. For twelve seasons he has been the Guest Commentator on all the Saturday afternoon Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts. In 2008 he semi-staged La sonnambula at Carnegie Hall for Opera Orchestra of New York starring Ms. Gutierrez, restaged his Tanglewood production of Cosi for Naples Opera. Ira was a guest teacher of bel canto technique at The Royal in Den Haag in 2008, and then at the Dutch National Opera Academy for five seasons, and at the Amsterdam Conservatory in The Netherlands where he returned annually, and was appointed Permanent Guest Teacher.
He has also given master classes in bel canto and verismo for the Metropolitan Opera Guild every season since 2008, and has presented sold-out lectures for the Met Guild as well on a variety of operatic topics. Broadcasting from the Met put directing on hold, the exceptions being two productions close to New York – Die Fledermaus for Opera New Jersey, and Don Giovanni at Tanglewood, conducted by James Levine.
In the summer of 2010, Ira returned to Tanglewood to direct Ariadne auf Naxos for Maestro Levine, who was out with back surgery, so Ira collaborated with Maestro Christoph von Dohnányi. Ira lectures on opera twenty times a season for two private classes. He returns this season as Weekly Commentator on the Met Broadcasts, a position he has held since 2007.
© ira siff 2019
November 10th, 2020 | 58 mins 43 secs
Ira Siff has worn many hats in the opera industry since the 1960s. We chat through them all, a juxtaposition between mid-late 20th century opera and the present day, as well as his advice for emerging artists. Tales and memories abound.