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The Milken Archive of Jewish Music: The American Experience

Vol. XVI: Heroes and Heroines: Jewish Opera

http://www.milkenarchive.org/volumes/view/16

Reviewed by Jeffrey Shandler

Editor’s Note: This essay represents the first in a series of reviews exploring the recently launched Milken Archive of Jewish Music: The American Experience, an online resource that incorporates and expands upon the Archive’s earlier CD series (published on the Naxos label from 2003-2006).


In the annals of Jewish music, is any genre as fraught as opera? In nineteenth-century Europe, this most elaborate of western art forms seduced and dazzled Jewish admirers from Theodor Herzl (whose visions of Zionism were inspired by Tannhäuser) to Emma Goldman (transfixed by a performance of Il Trovatore in Königsberg). The lure of opera for cantors became the stuff of legends (the story of Yoel-Dovid Strashunsky’s fall from grace when he abandoned the synagogue in Vilna for the opera house in Warsaw inspired works of fiction, theater, and film). Jewish opera composers became celebrities (Meyerbeer, Offenbach), and their musicianship the target of anti-Semitic attack (most famously, Wagner’s Das Judenthum in der Musik). Opera production has long been a familiar home for Jews who converted (Mahler), intermarried (Otto Goldschmidt, the husband of Jenny Lind), or obscured their Jewishness (Rudolph Bing). Is it any wonder that the most renowned opera whose central figures are European Jews, Halévy’s La Juive (1835), is named for a character who, it turns out as the final curtain is about to ring down, isn’t, in fact, a Jewess? Read the rest of this entry »