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William Y. Elias

Opera in two acts (16 scenes) by Josef Tal to a libretto (in Hebrew) by Israel Eliraz; Hamburg, Städtische Oper, 9 November 1971 (in German).

Inspired by an ancient Talmudic legend, and an allegory about totalitarianism, the opera is set in an idyllic, peaceful country. The King (lyric baritone) hates the Queen (mezzo-soprano), whom he married only to prevent war with her father, and is in love with the Landlady (soprano). In Act 1, the devil Ashmedai (tenor) appears one night to the King and suggests that if he, Ashmedai, could rule as king for a year, he could turn the peace-loving citizens into bloodthirsty savages while the King could live happily with the Landlady. The King has such faith in his people that he agrees to the bet, but as soon as Ashmedai assumes the physical traits of the King and ascends the throne the citizens turn into intolerant, aggressive killers. A terrible war breaks out, causing total destruction. In Act 2, Ashmedai has won his bet, but the real King refuses to reclaim the throne because his faith in his people has been shattered. Ashmedai changes into a rooster and is devoured, unknowingly, by the Queen and her entourage. The King returns to his throne but refuses to continue the war, despite the advice of his Son (tenor), the commander of the army, and is lynched by the furious masses. Ashmedai appears to the people but they refuse to believe the truth. In an apocalyptic scene the physical world disintegrates, leaving only the King’s naked body with his anguished, faithful Daughter (soprano) leaning over him....


John S. Powell

(‘David and Jonathan’)

Sacred opera in five acts by Marc-Antoine Charpentier to a libretto by François Bretonneau; Paris, Collège Louis-le-Grand, 28 February 1688.

The drama is set in the Holy Lands during biblical times. King Saul (bass), on the eve of his battle against the Philistines, consults a Witch (haute-contre), who in turn summons the ghost of Samuel (bass); Samuel predicts defeat. David (haute-contre), banished from the camp of the Israelites by Saul, has joined the Philistine army. In spite of his desire for peace, David is forced to fight against the Israelites and his beloved friend Jonathas [Jonathan] (soprano), son of Saul. When he sees his sons dying and himself about to be captured, Saul falls on his sword. Jonathan, mortally wounded, dies in David’s arms, while the Israelites proclaim David to be Saul’s successor as their king.

David et Jonathas served as a five-part intermède to the spoken tragedy ...



Andrew Clements

Opera in two parts (Prelude and legend) by John Casken to a libretto by the composer with Pierre Audi; London, Almeida Theatre, 28 June 1989.

The ancient Jewish legend of the Golem describes how a saviour figure is created to protect the innocent when a community is under threat. Casken’s treatment of the legend relates its main action in flashback. In the Prelude the Maharal (baritone) remembers in old age how, many years before, he had created a golem. Accompanied by six ghostly madrigalists (the other members of the cast), he relives in his imagination the events that led to the death of his creation, while Ometh (countertenor) reminds the Maharal of his own role in the tragedy. The Legend then tells that story in five scenes. The young Maharal creates the Golem (bass-baritone) from clay on the banks of a river, although Ometh, a wounded, Promethean figure, questions his motives. As the Golem learns to talk and to perform everyday tasks, he comes into contact with the townspeople, with Stoikus (tenor), mourning the loss of his own son, and Miriam (soprano), the Maharal’s wife, whom the Golem desires. Ometh arrives and confronts the Maharal: together with the Golem he could drive evil out of the world; the Maharal angrily dismisses him. When the townspeople meet to rise up against their oppression, the Golem unwittingly interrupts them; after being taunted he kills Stoikus. He is briefly united with Ometh, but the Maharal intervenes, only to discover the murder and what his creation has done....


Elizabeth Forbes

(b Bucharest, c 1952). Israeli soprano of Romanian birth . She studied in Tel-Aviv and in Zürich, where she made her début in 1977 as the Queen of Night; in 1978 she sang the same role at Glyndebourne. Engaged with the Deutsche Oper, Berlin, from 1980, she has also sung in Hamburg, Munich, Vienna and Cologne and at La Scala. In ...


Christopher Smith

(b Paris, Jan 1, 1834; d Paris, May 8, 1908). French librettist . He belonged to a distinguished Jewish family; his uncle was the composer Fromental Halévy, and his father, Léon, was respected in literary circles. On leaving the renowned Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris he had little difficulty, despite an unimpressive academic record, in obtaining civil service appointments. Plainly he had both ability and the benefits of patronage. His interests, however, lay in the theatre. Initially he adopted the pseudonym Jules Servières, and later, in 1858, when working with Crémieux on the libretto for Orphée aux enfers (with which Offenbach was to have such a significant success), he is said to have insisted that the credit and the royalties should go to his collaborator; at a time when his prospects in colonial administration were especially promising, he was afraid his reputation might be blighted by association with opéra comique...


J.B. Steane

(b Vienna, March 23, 1895; d New York, 15 Dec. 1974). Austrian soprano . She studied in Vienna and made her début at Frankfurt in 1917, appearing in small roles and achieving a first notable success in Il barbiere. After a season at Darmstadt she sang at the Volksoper in Berlin where her parts included Konstanze in Die Entführung and Violetta in La traviata. In 1926 she became principal soprano in Munich at the Bavarian Staatsoper. She enjoyed a spectacular success at Monaco as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos and also became a favourite at Salzburg. Guest appearances at the Vienna Staatsoper in the 1930s seemed about to lead to a substantial career but as a Jew she found her way blocked, and after a heroic period with the Jewish Theatre in Berlin left Europe for America, where she married the writer Jack Siegel and gave up her public career. A delicately clear and beautiful voice combined with remarkable agility and an imaginative style help to place her few recordings among the most delightful of the period....



M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet

Drame mêlé de chants in three acts by Etienne-Nicolas Méhul to a libretto by Alexandre Duval after Genesis xxxvii–xlvi; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Théâtre Feydeau), 17 February 1807.

Although favoured by the pharaoh, Joseph (haute-contre), known in Egypt as Cléophas, misses his family and homeland. When famine brings his brothers there, he grants them his protection and hospitality. They fail to recognize him and this allows Joseph to test whether their remorse over selling him into slavery is genuine. When Ruben (tenor) mentions that their father is nearby, Joseph decides to go to the Israelites’ camp outside Memphis. First he meets Siméon (tenor), now almost mad with feelings of guilt, and becomes convinced of his brother’s repentance. The Israelites’ morning prayers are heard in the distance. Joseph is so overcome by seeing his youngest brother Benjamin (soprano) and then his father Jacob (baritone) again that he almost reveals his identity; but, warned by Utobal (baritone), he has to leave to intercede with the pharaoh: Joseph’s enemies have criticized his generosity towards foreigners. During Joseph’s absence Siméon confesses his crime to Jacob. At first Jacob denounces him and his guilty brothers, but Benjamin and later Joseph (still incognito) plead for them. Jacob begins to relent; Joseph reveals his identity and forgives them. The pharaoh has granted them sanctuary on Joseph’s request, and all thank God for his goodness and mercy....


Elizabeth Forbes

(‘The Polish Jew’)

Conte populaire d’Alsace in three acts by Camille Erlanger to a libretto by Henri Cain and Pierre-Barthélemy Gheusi after Erckmann-Chatrian’s novel of the same title; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 11 April 1900.

Erlanger’s second opera and first great success, Le Juif polonais, based on the same legend as The Bells, Sir Henry Irving’s favourite drama, was given more than 50 times by the Opéra-Comique in 33 years. Mathis (baritone), the burgomaster haunted by the memory of a murder that he once committed, was created by Victor Maurel, whose highly dramatic performance no doubt accounted for much of the work’s initial success. In the same way that The Bells lost its popularity after Irving’s death, Erlanger’s work, although well crafted and appropriate to the subject, was insufficiently strong to keep the opera in the repertory once the melodramatic text became outmoded. The same subject was used for an opera by Karel Weis....


Hugh Macdonald

(‘The Jewess’)

Opéra in five acts by (Jacques-François-)Fromental (-Elie) Halévy to a libretto by Eugène Scribe ; Paris, Opéra, 23 February 1835.

The first production of La Juive, in 1835, with Cornélie Falcon as Rachel, Julie Dorus-Gras as Princess Eudoxie, Adolphe Nourrit as Eléazar and Nicolas Levasseur as Brogni, was one of the most spectacular ever seen at the Opéra. The Act 1 procession and the Act 3 festival became famous for their splendour. One newspaper thought the procession, with all the leading figures on horseback, was the eighth wonder of the world.

Nothing is missing in this prodigious resurrection of a distant century. The costumes of the warriors, civilians and ecclesiastics are not imitated but reproduced in the smallest detail. The armour is not paste-board, it is real metal. One sees men of iron, men of silver, men of gold! The Emperor is a glittering ingot from head to foot! The Opéra may become a power capable of throwing its armies into the balance of power in Europe....


Barry Millington


(b Yaroslavl’, 17/Sept 30, 1917). Israeli director of Russian origin. He began his career as an actor in Moscow, first with the Second Studio of the Moscow Arts Theatre, and then at the Vakhtangov Theatre, with which he toured Europe in 1957. From 1964 to 1984...