Eyes Wide Open
A Blind opera singer sees a world of possibilities
There are many things that Laurie Rubin realizes she shouldn’t be able to do. She knows this because so many people have told her so.
How could a blind girl cook for herself? Perform on stage in an opera?
“I’ve always felt that one of the things that was never granted to me was the basic human need to be treated with dignity,” the 33-year-old Encino native said in a phone interview from her home in Honolulu. “People would assume that a blind person might not be able to have a rich life, that it’s shrouded in darkness.”
And yet, the rising mezzo-soprano has done more than survive despite her disability; she has thrived. The first blind student to become a bat mitzvah at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino, she attended Yale’s opera program and has performed at Carnegie Hall and the White House.
“We all should be able to dream and to live our dreams and not let anything stop us,” she said.
That’s the theme of Rubin’s upcoming book, “Do You Dream in Color? Insights From a Girl Without Sight.” To be released Oct. 23, it relates both the challenges she has faced — such as getting into a local private school and fitting in with classmates — and life’s thrills, such as learning to ski based on touch and hearing alone.
Rubin will read portions of the memoir and perform a few songs as part of a Nov. 6 appearance at American Jewish University.
The book shares its title with a song created especially for Rubin’s expressive mezzo by Bruce Adolphe. Its four stanzas are set to a poem Rubin wrote, in which she paints a vibrant portrait of her life as an artist who happens to be blind.
“I thought about the two questions people always seem to ask most about what it’s like to be blind: ‘Do you dream?’ and ‘Do you dream in color?,’ ” said Rubin, who co-founded with her partner, Jenny Taira, the Ohana Arts performing arts festival and school in Hawaii.
Rubin, like everyone else, does dream, and although blind since birth — the result of a condition that did not allow her retinas to develop — she said she perceives light and dark, day and night. Her sense of color is intuitive and also metaphorical, similar to how the scale of B-flat reminds her of chocolate, for example, or A major of cheerfully swinging on a swing set.
“G minor sounds like dark blue to me. Even different pianos can sound like different colors,” she said.
In her lyrical poem, Rubin answers four people who ask whether she dreams in color. The last is a music professional who warns her that her career prospects, as a blind person, will be limited, prompting the aspiring singer to reply, “I dream of the red gown that I’ll wear onstage, that is striking against my fair skin.”
“I love that fourth verse,” Rubin said, “because some people in the opera industry have been very adamant that I would never have a career, since they assume I’m so isolated and helpless. This is my opportunity to tell the world how life really is for me, without getting angry or hurt — it’s an opportunity to have my voice heard.”
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