Let us hope that Yiddish Opera will make the rounds again. Giacomo
Minkowsky's great soaring love duet in Davies Hall today put to shame
Bizet's "The Pearl Fishers" across the street, in the War Memorial. Have
you even *heard* of Minkowski? Unlikely. Related to Puccini more than
by just a name, this Giacomo also wrote gloriously sentimental music,
or to be ethnically correct, schmaltz, not passione poco costosa.
In Michael Tilson Thomas' San Francisco Symphony program about his
Yiddish-theater star grandparents, the Thomashefskys, the musical high
point was that duet from Minkowsky's "Alexander, the Crown Prince of
Jerusalem," - "As if on wings I come," or, in the original, "Vi gefloygn
kum ikh vider." Sung by an ecstatic Eugene Brancoveanu and a more
self-possessed Ronit Widmann-Levy, the music swept the through the
audience, and several members therein off their feet.
Feelings are front and center in "The Thomashefskys: Music and Memories
of a Life in the Yiddish Theater," love flowing thick as molasses, MTT's
affection for Boris, but especially Bessie, his grandmother, palpable,
worn on the sleeve. (Yet, the show is not really a family testimonal,
what with a quote from Bessie about MTT's parents being "conventional,"
one mention of his father, and no reference to his mother.)
In Judy Blazer's singing and acting, Bessie came to life in such
wonderful crowd-pleasers as "A coat from old-time stuff," her signature
tune of "The march of Jewish suffragettes," songs from "The Yiddish
Yankee Doodle," the deeply moving medley from "Dos pintele yid" - an
untranslatable equivalent of "A little spark of Jewishness."
In Shuler Hensley's interpretation (and through MTT's enthusiastic and
colorful narration), Boris emerged as a thoroughly fascinating character,
larger than life, daring, erring, brave and foolish, with accomplishments
on the scale of producing a Yiddish version of Wagner's "Parsifal" in
1904, just a year after the work's US premiere (in German, yes) by the
Celebrity participants included Judy Kaye, with a hilarious, fabulously-sung
"Thomasefsky song" by Nora Bayes, "Who do you suppose married my sister?,"
and a fine - if overlong - reading from Bessie's newspaper column by
Debra Winger. (Mrs. T. wrote very well, but eight minutes about the
care of skin on women's throat would have fit a giraffe show better.)
The orchestra had relatively little to do, with plenty of time to watch
the interesting projections in Patricia Birch's engrossing and illuminating
production, but when they played, the Symphony seemed transformed into
a grand klezmer band.
Although advertised as an "open rehearsal," this morning's concert charged
$50 for tickets, and nothing was being rehearsed - a run straight through,
smooth as silk, with applause and audience participation, just like the
"real thing" that will come tonight, for just a few kopeks more.
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