Jewish Currents November 1986 40:10 (443) pp18-19

Berlin's Juedischer Musiktheaterverein Continues Its Work


Despite the continued refusal of the Berlin Senate to provide any of the support it gives to so many similar (non-Jewish) groups, the three-year-old Juedischer Musiktheaterverein in Berlin mounted three new productions in 1985-96, bringing the number of events it has produced, including broadcasts, concerts and lectures, to 36.

On Dec. 17, 1985, in association with West Berlin's Urania, and inspired by a March, 1985 Jewish Currents article on composer Lan Adomian, the Verein presented the European premiere of Adomian's 1934 ballet Luftmenschen. The music, preserved and made available by Edith Segal, was choreographed and danced as a one-man show by Joaquin LaHabana, who also performed it April 21, 1986 for the Arbeitskreis "Begegnung mit dem Judentum" (Work Circle: "Encounter with Jewry") at the Annenkirche in Dresden (East Germany). The Dresden connection, fostered especially by Jewish music specialist Peter Zacher in Dresden, has borne fruit in additional Verein concerts there this summer and in the scheduled first performance with orchestra of the Lehrman-Sholokhov opera The Family Man in March, 1988.

On May 20, 1986, in association with the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, the Verein presented a reading of the play Masada by Leonid Kelbert. Kelbert, a successful Soviet Jewish writer and director, was refused an exit visa in 1979 and has not been able to work since. His moving play, which has been produced only underground in Leningrad, deals with elemental questions of courage and integrity in the face of tyranny. Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry in New York made the play availabe in a rough translation which, revised by this writer after inspection of the original Russian, was translated into German and directed by Franz M. Grueger. Heading the cast was Walter Tschernich, who had tried unsuccessfully to organize a new Yiddish Theatre in Berlin as recently as 1982. A new group announced similar intentions in Heidelberg in Feb., 1986, under the direction of William Lampert.

The Verein's major production of the year was, however, funded in part by the Anne Frank Fonds of Basel: the European premiere of Mira Spektor's one-act ballad-opera after Lea Goldberg's play of the same name, The Lady of the Castle, June 2, 1985 in concert at the Amerika Haus and July 13-14, 1985 staged at Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien. For the premiere, Mira Spektor, a New Yorker active in promoting performances of music by women composers, returned to her birthplace, Berlin, for the first time since emigrating from Nazi Germany. The opera, like the play, presents a dramatic confrontation between old-world European and nascent (1947) Israeli world-views.

Combined with the various presentations of these three short works, the Verein's programs also included an evening's worth of excerpts in French from HalÚvy's La Juive; a new melodrama version of the Birobidjan Scene from Bruce Adolphe's opera Mikhoels the Wise; songs in Yiddish, Ladino, German and English; this writer's indictment of current German and Austrian anti-Semitism, the cantata Jewish Voices in Germany; and his new musical in collaboration with Karen Ruoff Kramer: e.g.: Scenes from the Life of Emma Goldman, which received its first--concert--presentation in conjunction with U.S. Americans for Peace-Berlin-West this past May 4 in honor of the Haymarket Centennial, and again at Stanford University in Berlin May 25. A New York production is in the works.

DR. LEONARD LEHRMAN, Laureate-Conductor of Berlin's Juedischer Musiktheaterverein, has just returned from seven years' work in German-speaking theaters in Europe to become Music Director of Temple Beth Sholom in Roslyn, N.Y. He last appeared here in our Oct. issue.