A graduate of the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, and New York’s Juilliard School of Music, Chaim Freiberg devoted his life to the art, teaching piano at a single Manhattan music school for more than four decades. In 2019, he retired to St. Petersburg and declared himself a writer.
Freiberg’s first two books collected tall tales, sweet stories and subtle life lessons presented as a series of beautifully-illustrated short fables – for young people, at least on the surface (he had always enjoyed working with children) but (he liked to say) really, for anyone, of any age, who found enjoyment in them.
Neither Ms. Adelaide’s Piano (and Other Tales of Music and Love) nor its followup, Ms. Flora and the Squirrel (and Other Tales of Friendship and Gratitude) gave a clue as to what Freiberg would craft into Lily Flowers Finds Love (and Other Tales of Passion), newly published by St. Petersburg Press.
Its eight short stories are about the world of opera – more precisely, the world of the diva, a singer (usually a soaring soprano) who’s preparing to perform the difficult lead role in a famous opera in one of the world’s most prestigious theaters.
There’s romance, mystery and suspense in Freiberg’s pages, all well-worn elements of classic operatic storylines – but, in the case of these stories, the author says, “the characters come off the stage and become part of the real life of the performers.”
His divas are singing in La Traviata, Tosca, Carmen, Lucia di Lammermoor, Rigoletto and others. Sometimes, as in opera, there are happy endings – and sometimes not. And sometimes it’s ambiguous.
“I don’t play the piano much anymore,” Freiberg explains, “but I do enjoy writing, and I thought it would be the perfect combination of my knowledge and solid background in music, and also enjoying stories that have intrigue and mystery, not unlike opera and the life of divas. And I have known opera singers in person … so much of it is an illusion, on the stage, and she goes home and she’s just a regular person.”
Indeed, Lily Flowers Finds Love opens with a poem, “Curtain Call,” that addresses the intertwining of the opera singer’s personal and public lives.
The stories just poured out of Chaim Freiberg. “I was having a lot of fun writing it,” he says, “because I was almost following each story as it developed, instead of writing it.”
All of the towns and opera houses, he adds, are modeled on real places he’s visited, “and I always had somebody in mind when I wrote about a particular person.”
The lines between fantasy and reality, mortality and myth are blurred in the pages of Lily Flowers Finds Love. Elements of actual opera plotlines blend with each lonely lady’s search for fulfillment of one sort or another.
Freiberg will rad from the book at a special studio@620 event being planned for March; he’ll also divulge the singers (both real and not-so) who inspired or imbued the stories in Lily Flowers.
Until then, “I have written three novellas, short novels, and they all take place in my favorite time period, the beginning of the 20th century,” he says. “There’s something about it that is very attractive to me.”
And there was something both intoxicating and inspiring about the creation of his opera fantasy book, he reveals, that there may be a sequel of sorts. “I was also in the art world, and friendly with some people in the ballet world. And I’m thinking of doing something in this same format, by taking ballet stories and seeing what happens to the dancers.”