CULTURE & THE ARTS
Dresden, Berlin's Scheunenviertel and Fontainebleau: Yiddish Performances in Historic Places [original title: Performances in Historic Places: Yiddish in Dresden & Berlin's Scheunenviertel and Music by Jewish Americans at Fontainebleau}
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Aug. 11, 1996
"There are 613 commandments in the Old Testament. You must never forget what has been called the 614th: 'Thou shalt not allow Hitler to claim a posthumous victory in a judenfrei Germany.' You are doing God's work." Hearing these words from me, following an enthusiastic if slightly chaotic rehearsal I had just witnessed of the first production of a Yiddish play in Dresden since World War II, the company was silent for a moment. Then the director, Detlev Hutschenreuther, who also plays saxophone as well as Haman(!) in the production, replied: "No one has ever spoken words like that to us before. It gives us new resolve."
Hutschenreuther is not Jewish. In fact no one in the company is. (Even the local co-sponsoring Jewish culture organization, "Hatikvah," which has just published a lovely book on sites of Jewish interest in Dresden [Spurensuche: Juden in Dresden], has only one part-time employee who is Jewish - and even she was laid off part of last year.) But he has been working in the area of Jewish music and theater for nearly a decade, inspired in part by visiting klezmer clarinettist Giora Feidman, and by a performance he attended two years ago at the Dresden club called Herkules-Keule featuring the American (Jewish) soprano Helene Williams and this writer. At his request, and with the help of American Yiddish music specialist Zalmen Mlotek, I connected him with composer Dov Seltzer, and his Dresden theater group for about a year now has been workshopping Die Schneidermegille with original text by Itzak Manger and music by Seltzer; the German premiere is planned for this coming fall.
It will be the fifth production by the company, which calls itself "Rocktheater Dresden" and performs in a small facility known as "Brennhaus." The other productions have been Jesus Christ Superstar (in which Hutschenreuther starred as Judas), Alles Plaster, Titanica, and Rock Suicide. This will be their first foray into Yiddish. The possibilities for Brechtian commentary via rapid switching between Hochdeutsch and Yiddish are not lost on the better actors in the troupe (especially Hutschenreuther's girlfriend, who plays a beautiful Queen Vashti). They have also had the benefit of working with the 1968 New York production's original director/designer, Shmuel Bunim, who made a special trip from Israel to work with them for a few weeks, and left a lasting impression, as well as numerous sketches and brilliant costume designs.
Many of the company attended our sold-out "Jiddischer Abend," sponsored by "Hatikvah" at the Club "fuer dich," a few days later - Hutschenreuther ran lights for us - and communicated to us with their applause and their warm comments afterwards how much they enjoyed hearing our performances in English, German, and especially Yiddish, though they confessed themselves to be a little non-plussed by the Yinglish words like "nextdoorke" and "millinery storke" in songs like "Die grine Kusine."
Tenor Ronald Edwards made a big hit with the revolutionary song "Any Day Now," originally written for but then cut from the movie of Fiddler on the Roof, and danced with Helene in the Act I finale from [my] E.G.: A Musical Portrait of Emma Goldman: "If I can't dance, it's not my revolution!" of which the Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten wrote: "The excerpts heard whet one's curiosity and make one eager to hear more." Six years ago, a performance of the work scheduled in Dresden had to be cancelled for lack of advanced ticket sales; now perhaps it's time for a re-scheduling. Berlin
The same program proved an even greater success at the Hackesche Hoftheater in Berlin's Scheunenviertel, where it was billed as part of a series:
"Jiddische Musik am historischen Ort." In particular, requests came for multiple copies of Tom Lehrer's and this writer's (not-yet-published) songs listing all the Jewish holidays: "Hanuka in Santa Monica" and the rejoinder, "Goot Yuntif."
[Although the program was printed correctly, the huge poster outside the theater announced the coming of "Leonhard Lehrman," prompting me to tell my story of the Pforzheim Pfoertner who could not get my name straight over the phone in 1979: "Leonard Lehrman," I told him. "Leonhard Lehrman," he kept repeating. "Nein, 'Leonard,' wie 'Leonard Bernstein.'" "Leonhard Bernstein..." came the reply, at which point I gave up.]
An even more historic place we performed in on this tour was the Chateau de Fontainebleau forty minutes south-south-east of Paris. This summer was the 75th anniversary of the Ecoles d'Art Americaines, founded in the castle originally by Camille Saint-Saens shortly after World War I, in gratitude to the Americans who had aided France in the War, and in honor of General Pershing, who loved military music. The most famous teacher in the history of music, Nadia Boulanger, taught there until her death in 1979 - the last time I had been there. (Composer/critic Virgil Thomson, whose centennial was celebrated at a meeting of the Music Critics Association of North America at Lincoln Center this summer, used to say that every American town had to have at least a gas station and a Boulanger student.)
But our concert proved the occasion of an even more historic return: that of composer David Diamond (1915- ), who had not been back since studying there in 1938(!). One used to say that when Leonard Bernstein entered a room the temperature went up three degrees. Exactly that happened when Diamond walked in. The concert, devoted to works of his, mine, and those of the late Marc Blitzstein and Elie Siegmeister (Boulanger students all), was attended by virtually the entire school, including students Elsie Watson (who has attended every year since the 1950s) and Dalit Warshaw - whose music we reviewed at the 92nd Street Y two issues ago, pianist/director Philippe Entremont, and alumni president Therese Casadesus. We were housed in the chateau itself, romantically finding our way around with a candle when light switches proved hard to find. Later, in the library, we discovered works by other Boulanger students that could make for similar programs that we hope[, in response to invitations,] to perform in the future.
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