End of Year Wrap-Up, 2023 by Leonard Lehrman – Anne Frank, Panama, Amid Falling Walls, The BoulangerieComments Off on End of Year Wrap-Up, 2023 by Leonard Lehrman – Anne Frank, Panama, Amid Falling Walls, The Boulangerie
January 10, 2024 by Admin
End of Year Wrap-Up, 2023 by Leonard Lehrman – Anne Frank, Panama, Amid Falling Walls, The Boulangerie
The last two months of 2023, I was gratified to receive critics’ tickets to three very pleasing productions and a concert on themes close to my heart, regretting only that I could not review them while they were still running. In each case, however, one hopes that closing night will not be the end of the run, so to speak, as each of these events deserves further development and extension, sometimes with modifications, as noted.
Anne Frank is a French musical by Jean-Pierre Hadida (1960- ), who was born in Algeria but grew up in Paris, and has had a prolific career both as a digital painter and composer of commercials, as well as works on subjects ranging from Nelson Mandela to Josephine Baker. Encouraged by Claude-Michel Schönberg of Les Miz fame, he began working on musicalizing the Franks’ story in 2008. The English version by his son Dylan Hadida premiered at Manhattan’s Actors Temple October 11-November 5, produced & directed by, and starring, a very ebullient international performer/entrepreneur David Serero as Otto Frank, who dominated the stage physically and vocally, often eclipsing a capable international cast, including Zoey Burger (just out of college) in the title role and 9 other actors from Israel, Croatia, Canada and the U.S., sensitively accompanied by piano and cello. The score contained several numbers worth remembering and excerpting, but the program did not name them. The set design and dramaturgy were moving, and the only major fault was the translation, which needs the kind of work Les Miz received in English. For example, the word “Israel” or “Yisrael” can be sung in English or Hebrew with the accent on the first or last syllable. But only in French can the second syllable properly receive the main stress. And trying to sing the word that way in English is awkward. I do hope the creators find a way to remedy that for future productions of the work in English, as the piece deserves to be heard, along with Soviet composer Grigory Frid’s monodrama, The Diary of Anne Frank, especially in times like these, with antisemitism on the rise seemingly everywhere.
The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s much more polished production, Amid Falling Walls, Nov. 14-Dec. 10, had little or no original material, but was a model of admirable scholarship, pieced together dramaturgically, with resultant heartfelt, emotional intensity. Each of the 28 songs led inexorably to the next, sung by eight topnotch performers, led by Steven Skybell (Tevye in the company’s most recent successful run of Fiddler on the Roof in Yiddish), backed by an orchestra conducted from the piano by Zalmen Mlotek, assisted by D. Zisl Slepovich, directed by Motl Didner. These 3 gentlemen have done wonders for Jewish, especially Yiddish, identity and culture, worldwide. Two years ago, our Romanian agent scheduled a conference call with them and us to plan a Yiddish music tour of that country for all of us, which had to be postponed first due to COVID and then the refugee crisis caused by the war in neighboring Ukraine. But may the new year bring peace at last, and a deepening commitment to celebrate and remember the joys and sorrows in the songs from the ghettos of Europe that make up this show. The sequence on leaving a young Jewish boy in the hands of Gentiles in order to save his life (the subject of the Village, an opera by Joel Mandelbaum that had its European premiere in Hamburg this past year) was especially moving. The title of the finale, Mir lebn eybik, should be translated “We’ll live forever” rather than “We live forever,” the future being implied, and rendered correctly in the Russian subtitles. Other than that, this was a just about perfect show, with contemporaneous photos and clips adding atmosphere that brought chills, laughter and tears, in equal measure. Excellent – Molodyetz! (pronounced “Maladyetz!”:>)
A very talented Long Island team put together a limited run, Nov. 11 & 12, of Panama, a new musical with a cast of 19(!), book & lyrics by Stephen Michelman, and music accompanied by 3 instrumentalists, conducted from the keyboard by composer Steven Belfer at the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center in Roslyn. The last time I was there was in 2014, performing one of our 8 Jewish Opera Now concerts, leading to the U.S. premiere of my opera Hannah at Hebrew Union College. The time before that was in 1995, when Steve Belfer (my student at the time) played keyboards in a production I conducted there of The Sound of Music. This was the first original musical of his I’ve seen, and I’m glad to say it shows promise. Phil Essex was an impressive impersonator of Theodore Roosevelt, the work’s central figure, who does not appear however until the end of Act I. Dramaturgically the piece very skillfully shows both the positive ingenuity & conservational sensitivity and, in contrast, the negative chauvinism & imperialism that were part of both Roosevelt’s character and the Panama Canal project. The lyrics are clever; the music appropriately Latin in many places. The most impressive characterization was that of a Mata Hari-like fictional character called Margana Malatesta. (Michelman pointed out that her first name is actually an anagram for “Anagram.”) She was impressively embodied by leading lady Stacey Weinberger, who will, I understand, be playing Golde in the group’s production of Fiddler next spring. The work deserves a future. I would warmly encourage the Roosevelt family, which was so very supportive back in 2018 when I produced 3 concerts devoted to the centenary of TR’s grandson Willard, to support this worthy project.
Last but not least, it was a pleasure to hear and then meet the redoutable pianist/commentator Rob Kapilow and the very fine tenor Nicholas Phan at their Dec. 11 Merkin Hall lecture-recital on Nadia and Lili Boulanger & the Boulangerie. Painstaking and illuminating analyses and performances were given of 6 songs: one by Nadia, two by Lili, and one by each of 3 Boulanger students – out of over 700 composers to choose from(!). Marc Blitzstein’s I Wish It So, the quintessential ingenue song sung by Mary (not Juno) in his musical Juno, was a curious choice, but given a heartfelt rendition nonetheless. Philip Glass’s Planctus was a piano piece with melody by Natalie Merchant and text by the 12th century Godfrey of St. Victor superimposed on it, reminiscent of Charles Gounod’s superimposing a melody for Ave Maria on the first prelude of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Aaron Copland’s secular version of the hymn At the River was then followed by a Quincy Jones encore. Most rewarding for me were the Q&A and private conversations afterwards. I learned that Kapilow had studied with Boulanger in 1973-74, just two years after I did. Both Phan and Kapilow graciously praised the 3-volume Marc Blitzstein Songbook (which I edited), and promised to consider doing more Blitzstein – especially the aria With a Woman to Be from the opera Sacco and Vanzetti, his first work to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, just last year.
Copyright 2024 – Leonard J. Lehrman
This is the 35th article for SoundWordSight.com by Dr. Leonard J. Lehrman, Long Island’s most prolific living composer. Concerts of his works are planned for Mar. 10 and Aug. 20, 2024 at Bryant and Hewlett-Woodmere Libraries in honor of his 75th birthyear and birthday, respectively. He has just completed Chapter 10 of 12 in his forthcoming book, Continuator : The Autobiography of a Socially-Conscious, Cosmopolitan Composer. Website: ljlehrman.artists-in-residence.com
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