In America, celebrity divas are instantly recognizable by their first names: Madonna. Britney.
Israel has its own diva: Rita.
Known only by her first name, Rita is as dramatic and flamboyant as a diva should be, but also soulful, with an intensity in her voice and performances that packs an emotional punch.
Her style embodies an eclectic mix of Middle Eastern sounds, with distinctive Persian tones combined with Western influences. Her muses include husband Rami Kleinstein, who was born in the United States but moved to Israel as a small boy, eventually becoming a famous Israeli musician in his own right.
For the first time in two years, Rita will bring her sultry performance style and amazing vocal range to the United States in a minitour, with an L.A. date at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre on April 7.
While Rita's invariably sold-out shows are usually highly stylized, over-the-top productions, that's not true of this tour.
"It's very touchable, very intimate," she said in a telephone interview with The Journal from her Tel Aviv home. "I want to be very attached to my audience. To be able to talk to them and to hear them."
And she has millions of fans here.
"It's very flattering," said the 43-year-old singer. "I feel that I have a long but healthy relationship with my audiences, because I see my work as a celebration, because I get so much love."
The Iranian-born songstress, who moved with her family to Israel at 6, burst onto the Israeli music scene in November, 1985. Her first two singles went to No. 1.
Over the years, Rita's albums have reached gold and platinum status, has been named Israel's "Singer of the Year" on several occasions and represented Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest. She's also acted in films and performed on the Israeli stage -- a few years ago in "My Fair Lady" and most recently in "Chicago" -- and said she hopes to do more theater work.
Almost 20 years after her debut, she's still considered Israel's leading female vocalist, and has shown no signs of slowing down.
A self-confessed workaholic, Rita said that she always tries to improve on her work and that she approaches every show as if it's the first and last of her life.
"The audiences are smart," she said. "They know if you're giving them all of you or not, and I always give all of me."
Rita describes her career highlight as "always the most recent thing." She sang at the March opening of Yad Vashem's new Holocaust museum, in front of 41 dignitaries from around the world.
"It was such a moving, emotional experience to be there, singing 'Yerushalayim Shel Zahav' in Jerusalem, surrounded by all those photos of all those terrible things that happened to our people," she said. "But there we were on top of this high mountain in Jerusalem, with everyone sitting there. It was an incredibly emotional experience."
So much so that Rita's rendition of "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" is being incorporated into her tour.
Her North American performances are rare, but Rita does many concerts in Israel and Europe. She said she's very excited about this upcoming tour, saying how important it is for her to meet "my family" -- how she refers to her U.S. fans. Besides Los Angeles, the minitour will stop in San Francisco, New York and Montreal. Now that her two daughters are older (13 and 4), she added, she hopes to tour the United States at least once a year.
Rita said she feeds off the dedication of her fans.
"I received a letter and flowers from a fan recently, who wrote that he loved my concert because, 'It's not what you give the audience, or what you say to them, but what you cause them to feel.'"
Rita said her mission is "to touch the souls of people. I think that's an amazing opportunity that we have as artists, to cause people to feel. "
Rita will perform at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles. For tickets and information, call (310) 273-2824