Opera San Jose Fundraiser: Hershey Felder as Puccini

Hershey Felder Performs in “Puccini: Live From Florence.” Photo Credit: Opera San Jose.

by Charles Kruger

Who is Hershey Felder? An extraordinary artist with a unique specialty. Reading about him, one is tempted to conclude he must be a character in a romantic novel. Who could live such a life?

But Mr. Felder is very real and very prolific. And what does he do?

He gives mostly solo performances which he writes himself, in which he plays the part of various great composers. The plays always include music, which he performs himself at the piano with a virtuoso’s expertise, occasionally singing along.

As if that weren’t surprising enough, investigation reveals that the Canadian actor/musician grew up in a Yiddish-speaking home, and began his performing career in an amateur remnant of Yiddish theatre—an astonishing thing to occur in the 1970s, when the Yiddish theatre was practically extinct. I should add that Yiddish theatre persists today—a miraculous survivor!—but an actor under 80 years of age who actually got his START performing in Yiddish is, well, a Yiddishe Unicorn.

His portrayals have included George Gershwin, Fredric Chopin, Ludvig Van Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Irving Berlin, Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky, Claude Debussey, Sergi Rachmaninoff, and—premiering this weekend—Giacomo Puccini.

Really? Surely his ambition overreaches—who could do this successfully? Apparently, Hershey Felder. He has performed at an astonishing A-list of American theatres: from the Helen Hayes on Broadway to the Geffen Theatre in Los Angeles to the Berkeley Repertory in the Bay Area to the Royal George Theater in Chicago, and many more.

For more than a decade, Mr. Felder has been engaged in what seems to be a never-ending tour, appearing practically every where, and always to enthusiastic press. Well, what theatre writer could resist a story like his?

Unable to tour in the Year Of Covid, he has not been idle, but has presented his performances recorded live and streamed on the internet. In each case, he has performed as a fundraiser for the theatres where he has previously toured. It is a gesture of noble generosity.

Do you think I’m making this story up? Well, wait till I unload the capper. In addition to all his accomplishments as musician/actor, Mr. Felder is the spouse of Kim Campbell, who served as the first woman Prime Minister of Canada.

Fact is, I COULDN”T make this guy up. He’s real, and, this weekend, the premiere streaming of his newest work, “Puccini: Live From Florence,” featuring not only Mr. Felder, but several notable opera performers, can be seen under the auspices of Opera San Jose, with the proceeds going to support the company.

“Puccini: Live From Florence” is available to stream from March 14 through March 21. For further information, click here.

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