A proud second-generation Washingtonian, Faith Snyderman, 29, was that musical theater kid growing up. Her parents used to say she could sing before she could talk in a household filled with classical music, show tunes, the great American song book, and music by composers like George Gershwin and Irving Berlin. Snyderman, of Silver Spring, is building her stage career in opera with her wide-ranging soprano voice as her calling card.
On April 23, she sings the dual role of Agnes Smith and Leah in Rabbi Arnold Saltzman’s “Geniza: Hidden Fragments” at Adas Israel Congregation in the District.
You were involved in musical theater as a teen, why the switch to opera?
In high school, my voice teacher said, “You can pursue musical theater and you’d be fine, but your voice is more suited for opera.” At 15, I was crushed … this [musical theater] is what I dreamed of. Then I realized I could learn to love opera, too, and fell in love with it. Today, I try to do both as much as possible because it diversifies my musical skill sets and is also financially advantageous.
Is there an opera role you aspire to sing?
It depends on the language. I would say in German, Brunhilde [from Wagner’s “Die Walküre”]; in Italian, [Puccini’s] Tosca. It’s interesting being a Jewish singer in an historically antisemitic, bigoted and racist art form. In school, when my dad and I were in the car one day, I asked him, “How can I go to sleep at night knowing that my voice is capable and one day I will be singing Wagner?”
He said something I’ll remember for the rest of my life: “By doing it, you’re proving him wrong.”
Tell us about your Jewish upbringing?
My family’s synagogue was Temple Micah. I went to preschool and summer camp at the JCC down the street [Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center]. In high school, my mom had been going on for years about joining a Jewish youth group and signed me up without my knowledge for a NFTY event. I went kicking and screaming, but it is one of the best things that’s happened to me. I met my best friend and my fiancé there.
There aren’t many opportunities to play a soprano Jewish character.
There’s only one other opera off the top of my head in which a Jewish woman is a principal character, so this was really quite exciting for me. I play two women — one, not Jewish, and one, Jewish. Both very strong characters. Both very smart. [Biblical] Leah is portrayed in Arnold’s piece when she decides not to go through with the wedding and Rachel goes in her place.
It’s imperative that stories like this are told. It hasn’t been lost on me that this Jewish story has been musically compiled and crafted into an opera — an art form that’s historically racist, xenophobic, bigoted and antisemitic — not only by a Jew, but by a chazzan and rabbi [Saltzman]. As a proudly Jewish singer, it’s also important to participate in opportunities like these, especially in a world where antisemites feel safer to emerge into society.
Lisa Traiger is WJW’s arts correspondent.