CULTURE & THE ARTS:
Opera Premieres & New CDs
AUFBAU 63:25 Dec. 5, 1997 p13
Copyright by Leonard Lehrman & AUFBAU
Nov. 30, 1997
Golden Fleece Trilogy
"A Professor of Humanities has no room for God, and now who can believe?" asks Julian, the main character in Joel Feigin's new one-act opera The Ferryman, set "shortly after the end of World War II" in a "a rural area in Czechoslovakia, by a river... as experienced in a dream." The three soloists and three instrumentalists, conducted by Gary Schneider and staged by Lou Rodgers, labored mightily and with sincerity to make this mostly heavy-handed melodrama on the "need to believe in something" work, in the small Sanford Meisner Theater, as the finale in the 21st season of Golden Fleece Ltd., a company which has over the years produced more than 150 complete new works and portions of 300 more.
More successful dramatically were the five soloists, accompanied by viola and synthesizer/piano (a significant improvement over previous years' out-of-tune upright) in Jeremy Beck's portrait of a pious religious sect besieged by brutal FBI agents. At first they seem almost like Jews at Masada, but their continual evocation of "Yahweh Yoshua" clearly stamps them as Christians. And in fact, a conversation with the composer later revealed, much of the libretto is based on the actual transcripts of reports on the Ruby Ridge, Idaho shooting of Randy Weaver's wife, for which the U.S. government later paid out millions in compensation. Missing from the opera, though, is any hint of the bigoted white-supremacy beliefs of the sect in question. A potentially even more interesting and yet unproduced opera on a similar subject, John Eaton's The Reverend Jim Jones, seems to have been forgotten in the transition from Christopher Keene to Paul Kellogg at New York City Opera.
Selections from Richard Owen's full-length opera Sadie Thompson, based on the story by Somerset Maugham, opened the program. Veronica Burke was outstanding in the punishing title role. She really ought to be singing Lulu, while she still has it in her, vocally.
Lin Jaldati on CD
Vocal growth and change are fascinating to observe, aurally, in the latest Barbarossa CD from Berlin entitled "Lin Jaldati : Jiddische Lieder." The first 14 selections, released originally on LP in 1982 with orchestra conducted by Martin Hoffmann, catch her in the last decade of her career. She can be heard intoning, speaking, shouting, and occasionally approximating notes amid the mostly world-weary singing. Unlike the LP, though, the new CD also contains 6 much fresher and more vocally secure renditions of numbers accompanied at the piano by her husband Eberhard Rebling, recorded in 1964. Of these, "The Old Coachman [Balagole] and His Horse" is the most delightful; the finale "Sog nischt Kejnmol" most stirring. Juedisch-Liturgische Gesaenge aus Berlin [original subhead: Raymond Wolff]
It was the historian, musicologist, and inveterate collector Raymond Wolff who brought this recording and made it available at the recent Voice of Ashkenaz conference in New York, reviewed last issue. A refugee from the US draft in the Vietnam War, he settled in Berlin and has been active in Jewish museum and musical good works there now for nearly three decades.
Recordings from his extensive collection of 78 RPM records provided the Jewish music in the soundtrack for both the new Ulrike Ottinger film Exile Shanghai, which received its first screening at The Museum of Modern Art this past month, and for a 1996 Barbarossa CD entitled "Es wird nicht untergehen : Juedisch-Liturgische Gesaenge aus Berlin."
On the latter, works mostly by Louis Lewandowski are performed by seven cantors, including his own great-nephew Manfred Lewandowski (who also performs Maurice Ravel's Kaddish), who emigrated to Philadelphia, where he died in 1970 at age 75. Most of the others heard here were not so fortunate: Johannes Jacobsohn (a.k.a. Hanns John), Israel Bakon, Karl Neumann, and Arno Nadel (composer of a Kol Nidre sung here by Neumann) all disappeared in the Holocaust. These historic recordings, from 1909 to 1937, are a vivid memorial to them.
Proceeds from the sale of the CD are being used for the rebuilding of the razed synagogue in Staudernheim an der Nahe, near Bad Kreuznach in Rheinland-Pfalz, where Wolff discovered several generations of his relatives had lived and worshipped since 1700; his mother and his aunt, now living in New Jersey, are the last surviving Jews born in the town. A picture of the old synagogue is printed on the CD itself.
Auerbach's JMHT in London
Other new European CDs of Jewish music brought to New York for the conference included four from London, produced by Geraldine Auerbach's Jewish Music Heritage Trust on Paradigm Records. The most fascinating of these contains the only studio recordings made by Ernest Bloch conducting his own compositions, in London in 1949, including "Schelomo" with Zara Nelsova as cello soloist, "From Jewish Life" with an uncredited pianist and the "Sacred Service" with bass-baritone Marko Rothmueller as cantor.
Rothmueller was of mixed German and Italian background, but his diction here is distinctly - sometimes even a little distractingly - Italianate.
There have certainly been better performances and recordings of all three works, but the composer's own participation is naturally an important consideration, and makes one realize that Bloch apparently really did intend his music to sound Hollywoodish at times, for better or for worse.
The other JHMT recordings include High Holyday Music of London's German exile synagogue in Belsize Square; Viennese Synagogue Music of Sulzer, Schubert, et al; and Gregori Schechter's Klezmer Festival Band on the South Bank. [More on these another time.]
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