Articles written for THE FORWARD by Leonard J. Lehrman

Emotional Ellis Island Songs To Premiere at Y

January 19, 2001, p. 11

by Leonard Lehrman

[passages in brackets were cut by the editor]

[Fifteen years ago, in line with the rededication of the refurbished Statue of Liberty on the occasion of its centennial, Ellis Island was the focus of numerous artistic endeavors, from the internationally telecast Liberty Weekend Ceremonies to the moving Myron Fink-Lou Rodgers opera "The Island of Tomorrow," presented by Golden Fleece Ltd. Composers' Chamber Theatre, Jewish Currents, and others.]

On [Sunday afternoon,] January 21, [2001, at 3:00], the 92nd Street Y[M-YWHA] will host the New York premiere of a new song cycle inspired by the Ellis Island stories of 20 [different] immigrants, aged 5 to 22, from Austria-Hungary, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Romania, Scotland, Turkey, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and "Russia via France."

Compiled by Paul Sigrist, Jr., director of the Ellis Island Oral History Project, the texts have been divided into six parts: "Preparing to Leave for America," "Boarding the Ship," "On the Ship," "In the Harbor," "On the Island" and "In America," plus a brief Epilogue. The emotions range from elation and amazement to amusement ("It is Prohibition. Your name is Schnapps. You're not supposed to come in!"), disappointment, regret and relief (that one young woman had been turned away from the overcrowded Titanic), concluding with the matter-of-fact. ("...and that's it.")

The composer, Alan Smith, director of the Keyboard Collaborative Arts Program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, is better known as a vocal coach, in which capacity he met the performer, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe at Tanglewood, presenting her with the cycle as a 30th birthday present in 1993. His 40 vocal compositions and instrumental music have been heard on both coasts and in Europe. [He plans to attend the New York premiere of his work.]

Ms. Blythe has been hailed as the successor to Marilyn Horne. Having sung the world premiere of the cycle last February in L.A., accompanied by the composer, she is now on tour with accompanist Warren Jones[, performing it in Washington and Philadelphia before coming to New York].

The program will be filled out with 10 contemporaneous popular songs the immigrants might well have heard, including two by Victor Herbert, one by Stephen Foster, and four by Irving Berlin.

[Tickets are $25. For information call 212-415-5500. A limited number of $10 tickets are available in the rear orchestra for each concert. High school and undergraduate college students with IDs may purchase tickets for $5. Senior citizens with IDs may obtain a 50% discount on the day of the concert].

Mr. Lehrman is the editor of Opera Today.

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