With a voice reminiscent of Cecilia Bartoli’s and a profile resembling Barbra Streisand’s, Laurie Rubin seems born for singing stardom.
Rubin, 24, was also born blind. Easily overlooked by directors who "don’t want to be responsible if I fall off the stage," Rubin says she has to work harder than the next mezzo-soprano to get ahead.
"All of my teachers, conductors and directors have told me that I have to be better than sighted people," Rubin told The Jewish Week during a visit to New York from New Haven, where she is finishing a master’s degree at Yale University’s School of Music. "That’s a hard shoe to fit."
Still, the L.A. native said she’d rather be marketed as "the blind girl" than politely passed over. And rather than disabling her, Rubin’s visual impairment (she perceives light but not shapes) has opened some prestigious doors.
She has performed solo at the White House and the Kennedy Center, at former L.A. Mayor Richard Reardon’s inauguration and before Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "I’ve sung a lot of national anthems," she said with a characteristic giggle.
Helped by a keen ear and librettos transcribed into Braille, Rubin sings in at least eight languages. Among those are Hebrew and Yiddish, thanks to the Jewish Braille Institute, which provided her with tactile lyrics for public performances, as well as the Torah portion and other texts for her bat mitzvah.
Begun in 1931, JBI claims the largest collection of Jewish-interest books specially formatted for the blind and visually impaired. Affiliated with the Library of Congress, JBI’s free lending library comprises 9,000 talking books and 7,000 Braille titles Rubin is performing next week alongside composer Marvin Hamlisch at JBI’s first-ever gala. TV talk-show host Larry King chairs the May 20 event. (Call 212 744-0799 for details.)
Rubin recently had a less direct brush with celebrity. A friend in L.A. gave one of her CDs to James Brolin, the actor married to Barbra Streisand.
A few weeks later, the Rubins got a phone call from someone at a local car wash asking where to buy a copy of the CD. The disk had been playing in Streisand’s car stereo.
"Oh my God!" Rubin recalls thinking. "I used to listen to Barbra. Now she’s listening to me!"