Bob Dylan meets opera in eclectic Israeli band’s tribute album

By Matt Robinson/JNS.org 

Click photo to download. Caption: The cover of "Dylan at the Opera," the new album by Israeli band Diva de Lai. Credit: Diva de Lai.

From Joan Baez to the Grateful Dead, scores of popular artists have tried to take legendary Bob Dylan’s work to new audiences and new dimensions. Now, an eclectic Israeli band is putting its own novel spin on the legendary Jewish musician. 

Diva de Lai—featuring economics PhD Yuval Nachtom on drums, orchestra specialist Eyal Sucher on guitar and keyboards, mezzo-soprano Karin Shifrin on vocals, and Grammy-nominated bassist and producer Yossi Fine—in late October released its first album, “Dylan at the Opera.”

“Dylan’s songs come from deep emotion of the soul, the same place that opera originates from… We thought our first album would conceptualize different styles and sounds and cover versions of Dylan’s songs in a new interpretation,” Nachtom tells JNS.org.

Since Dylan—born Robert Allen Zimmerman to Jewish parents and raised in Hibbing, Minn.—has written and recorded hundreds of songs, Nachtom admits that it was a challenge to select the dozen tracks for his Diva de Lai’s rock opera album, but says he delighted in digging deep into Dylan’s body of work. 

“We knew these songs were less covered and relatively lesser known to the mass audience,” he says. “All the songs to us represent a ‘soul’ and theatrical material for opera, such as the incorporation of [Karin Shifrin’s] vocals.”

Click photo to download. Caption: From left to right, members of Diva de Lai: Karin Shifrin, Yuval Nachtom, Eyal Sucher, and Yossi Fine. Credit: Diva de Lai.

An example of a lesser-known Dylan song on the album is the first single, “Señor (Tales of Yankee Power),” originally written in the 1970s. The song was not well received nor well understood at the time, but Nachtom suggests its simple melody and timeless story work well in any style.

“’Señor’ is about lack of hope, the rule of a tyrant, cruelty, lost love, and maybe looking for an answer in a heavenly entity,” he explains, observing how “the color of the lyrics and the melody present a challenge and are a natural basis for hard-core opera.” 

In addition to opera and rock, Nachtom says the album includes a “complex palate” of other genres. There is classic ’80s rock with the songs “North Country Blues” and “Ring Them Bells;” hard rock with “As I Went Out One Morning,” “Don’t Think Twice,” “Is Your Love In Vain,” and “If You See Her, Say Hello;” country rock elements with “Wedding Song” and “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome;” and even classical music with “Dirge, Let It Be Me.” 

“[These are] great tunes by Dylan, completely redone in a new refreshing musical style,” Nachtom says.

While the band has yet to hear from Dylan himself, Nachtom says feedback from his fans and friends has been positive. 

Click photo to download. Caption: Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at the 1963 March on Washington. Baez made a Dylan tribute album, "Any Day Now," as has the Israeli band Diva de Lai through the newly released "Dylan at the Opera." Credit: U.S. Information Agency.

“Mr. Dylan’s closest circle that works with him really likes the album, and we have been receiving many compliments from Dylan’s fan base on social media on this reinterpretation concept of his songs,” he says.

Nachtom does hope the album makes it to Dylan himself, and that it will become “an honor to his legacy.” In the meantime, Diva de Lai is looking forward to its next album, which Nachtom says will come out in mid-2014. 

The new project, like the Dylan album, has diverse influences—it combines rock, opera, and classical music with lyrics from some of Israel’s most prominent poets.

“Song are like a cloud,” Nachtom says. “Anyone can interpret them how he or she understands them… We would hope the listeners interpret our style as they feel.”

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Posted on November 17, 2013 and filed under Arts, Features, Israel, U.S..