Israeli Contralto Mira Zakai Passes Away At 76

By Nicole Kuchta

Israeli operatic contralto Mira Zakai passed away on May 20, 2019 at the age of 76. According to Haaretz, her death was attributed to complications from a stroke she suffered last year.

Zakai was “known worldwide” for her many appearances with esteemed ensembles such as the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Israeli Opera, Berliner Philharmoniker, New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the orchestras of Paris, London, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Zürich, Vienna, Montreal, and Washington. The contralto sang “under the batons of prominent conductors” including Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, James Levine, Zubin Mehta, and Riccardo Muti, to name just a few.

She was chosen as a soloist by Sir Yehudi Menuhin to perform in a special concert for Pope John Paul II at Castel Gandolfo. Additionally, “dozens of works by Israeli and international composers were written especially for her voice.” Her recitals took her across the globe, with performances in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Hamburg, New York, Glasgow, Montreal, Moscow, Paris, and St. Petersburg. Zakai made her international opera debut as Orfeo in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” with Scottish Opera.

She is featured in a recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 in C Minor “Resurrection,” with soprano Isobel Buchanan, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Sir Georg Solti. It won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Classical Album and Best Classical Orchestral Recording.

A professor as well as a performer, Zakai began teaching voice and Lied & Oratoria repertoire at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, Tel Aviv University in 1991.

She received the Composers and Playwrights Association Award for her contributions to Israeli music in 1988, the Arts and Culture Council Prize for best performance of Israeli compositions in 1990, and “a special award for her dedication, contribution, inspiration and performance of Israeli contemporary music from the Minister of Culture and Education” in celebration of Israel’s 50th anniversary – over ninety compositions were commissioned and performed by Zakai.