Arts & Entertainment
Not Your Father's
In her latest project, black-Jewish
producer helps break down the
glass ceiling between opera and
Three Mo Tenors'
Special to the Jewish News
hree Mo' Tenors, playing this month at the
Fisher Theatre, introduces a half-dozen
young, classically trained black performers,
singing everything from opera to hip-hop, Broadway
The show, which opened in 2000, was featured on
the PBS Great Performances series in 2001 and has
toured the United States ever since, attracting audi-
ences of all ages and races.
"It's impossible not to like this show:' raved the
Said the Orlando Sentinel: "There's an emotional
thread that unites it all — passion!'
While audiences are used to hearing black operatic
sopranos — think Shirley Verrett, Jessye Norman and
Kathleen Battle — black operatic tenors have yet to
achieve the same level of international success, points
out Willette Klausner, producer of the genre-bending
"We like to think we are singing our way into histo-
ry," she says. "If we can shine the light on these tenors,
one or two of them, one day will be able to get all the
way to the top."
The young black men on stage are not the only ones
breaking stereotypes. Klausner herself is about as
atypical as a producer can be — female, African-
American — and Jewish.
"Through your life, you can choose whether to be
beaten down or whether to soar, to live in a world of
`no' or a world of 'yes!" she says. "Long ago, I decided
to live in a world of 'yes!"
Klausner was brought up in Santa Barbara, Calif., and
graduated from UCLA, where she met her husband,
lawyer Manny Klausner. She converted to Judaism
about 37 years ago, when the two were married, and
has led a culturally Jewish life ever since.
"We live in a Jewish world:' she says. "My family and
my husband's family get along really well. Our values
are strong enough — we focus on what we think, not
what others think. We don't really focus on the Jewish-
"What I am is Willette ; and that encompasses
Just as Three Mo' Tenors breaks down the bound-
aries between opera and other forms of musical
expression, Klausner's life has centered on breaking
down boundaries in her own quiet yet forceful way.
Before Three Mo' Tenors, she made her mark in sev-
eral other careers.
She was the first African-American model to appear
in a national fashion magazine (Mademoiselle),
worked in fashion merchandising at New York's
Bloomingdale's and in film merchandising at MCA
Universal Studios, where she was the first female cor-
porate vice president. She has co-produced several
shows, including an interracial version of Oliver Twist,
set in New Orleans rather than London.
Klausner feels that conflict between the black and
Jewish communities has been exaggerated. "It has
become a knee-jerk reaction to say,`Yes, there is a
problem, but, in the real world, if you ask what exactly
is the problem, no one can articulate it.
"And any time you do anything in the entertain-
ment world, you see Jewish and black people togeth-
er," she says. "Half the really superb jazz artists were
Jewish, and Jewish impresarios such as Sol Hurok
have been some of the greatest supporters of black
Recently, she has been working on a film project
about an Italian-African-American boy who is able to
"heal old-wounds and reunite the family."
"I have actually turned down projects because I
didn't think they were uplifting:' Klausner says. "I
want to provide dreams for children, not nightmares."
"I was on the board of the Music Center of Los Angeles
when I first saw Three Mo' Tenors," Klausner remembers,
"and I thought,`This is incredible!"'
The show originated with Broadway director-chore-
ographer Marion J. Caffey, who created the musicals
Street Corner Symphony and Cookin' at the Cookery.
After seeing Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and
Placido Domingo in the original Three Tenors, he real-
Not Your Father's Song Recital on page 40
March 2 G2006