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A Miracle in Munich: Cole Against all odds, in three multi-generational, Holocaust-related projects came to fruition almost simultaneously: Commissioned by the Bavarian State Opera for its summer festival, Zeisls Hiob premiered in Munich's venerable Reithalle on July 19, , with repeat performances on the 21st and 23rd.

Imaginatively conceived, well performed, and extensively reviewed, Zeisls Hiob is a music drama sui generis. Presented in a markedly different form than its originators could ever have imagined, this miracle in Munich merits an account of its meandering evolutionary course, an assessment of the finished work in theory and practice, and speculation concerning its future.

He enlisted as librettist his friend Hans Kafka and feverishly composed Act I in , despite the trauma attendant on his relocation to New York.

The project stalled as pressing circumstances forced Kafka to postpone his completion of the libretto - for seventeen years! These scores and others reveal a steady growth in compositional technique and expressive vocabulary. With the Europe portion finished and the America portion beckoning, fate intervened.

Less than six weeks after completing the orchestration of Act II, Zeisl died, on February 18, , at the age of fifty-three. For five decades, the Hiob fragment remained in limbo. My account must close at this point; the story need not. An Austrian company seriously considered commissioning someone to finish the opera.

In , the Bavarian State Opera took charge. From Zeisl and Kafka, the torch passed to a new generation: Immediately, the triumvirate encountered challenges inherent in Zeisl and Kafka's materials. For the portion set in Europe, transcriber and arranger Regina Gaigl capably converted Zeisl's hastily written manuscripts into a usable score. I must insert a caveat: For the portion set in America, Kafka's libretto, for which Zeisl had not written the music, posed knottier problems, among them its introduction of several new characters following Roth and its daunting length: Having determined that the opera must be finished, the team devised an ingenious strategy: Beginning in December , they drafted a new text — in German, English, and Hebrew — that extends the narrative arc in a distinctly allusive, dreamlike fashion.

Eliminating Kafka's new characters with the exception of Mike , the collaborators reframe the story. Daniel Grossmann provides welcome insight into the resulting, multi-generational effort.

On the sweltering night of July 19, a capacity audience filled the Reithalle, a multi-purpose venue ill-suited for opera. Unfortunately, there was no plot synopsis or explanation of the creative team's strategy.

Synagogue lamps hung overhead. A high, railed platform stood at the rear. In the center, a vacant space stood ready to accommodate a billowing curtain and, at times, a video screen. Representing the younger composer, tenor Matthew Grills chanted individual English words and clusters that ultimately cohered into an eloquent articulation of the challenge: The stylistic amalgam of East and West that Zeisl had developed to complement Roth's Hebraic subject matter was immediately projected.

Zeisl's music unfolds in a manner reminiscent of Wagnerian music drama. Organized into a series of scenic complexes, the narrative advances through an arioso-like Sprechgesang, with set-pieces embedded to allow ample operatic responses to key events. Orchestral transitions serve, structurally, to link the complexes and to raise or lower the emotional temperature of the drama. In his living room, Mendel attempts to instruct a group of students who would rather mock the sickly Menuchim.

Ensuing dialogue between Mendel and his wife, Deborah, yields character portraits of the couple's three healthy children: The voice of the Lord will speak through him. Never must Deborah leave him. Alas, their joy is short-lived. The healthy sons face military conscription, and Mirjam finds uniformed Cossacks irresistible. Parents and offspring unite to perform a quintet, cast in the style of a Russian dance. Conceived as a vast ritornello complex, a surging crowd scene unfolds. To conclude, Mendel and Deborah ecstatically sing a chant-like duet in which the text's bright promise is contradicted by a descending, chromatic ground bass, the centuries-old musical symbol of suffering and death.

During the intermission, viewers wondered whether the break signaled the end of the Europe segment. In fact, Zeisl's Act II, Scene 2, is still firmly rooted in Poland and is laden with potent dramatic situations that elicited five of his greatest scenic complexes.

In my opinion, this crowning scene is Zeisl's musical epitaph, in two senses: It is a Friday evening in late summer, one to two years later, on a street in the village of Zuchnow. A Vesper hymn initiates a solemn prayer scene.

A shocking confrontation ensues. Before rising to yet greater expressive heights, Zeisl inserts an episode for two drunks. Some might find comedy in Kafka's text, but Miron Hakenbeck detected menace. The narrative's main thread resumes with Zeisl's most erotic scene, the Cossack Michael's seduction of Mirjam or vice versa. Capping the complex is a mighty choral fugue with solo interjections by the principals.

I submit that if Zeisl had lived, he would have composed another segment of roughly two hours in length and would have divided a shortened Kafka text into Acts III Scenes 1 and 2 and IV. The resulting palindromic structure would have counterbalanced Act I's focus on the sickly boy with Act IV's focus on the adult Menuchim.

But this is pure speculation on my part. Zeisl's journey ended; either Hiob would remain incomplete, or others would have to finish it. On the unaltered set, Mendel and Deborah appear in the foreground.

Behind them, Mike formerly Michael and Mirjam dress. In a reversal of Act I, the students teach Mendel English: Blurred timelines, the suggestion or conflation of events, abrupt transitions, and unpredictable changes of momentum become the new norm. An intense orchestral passage, a quintet for the principals, and an ominous choral entry signal gathering storm clouds. Calamities mount: As the climax of this twenty-first-century mad scene, she is rolled off on a gurney, accompanied by gleefully singing, waving children and the din of a town band.

Dark, richly scored funeral music for orchestra and chorus punctuates this litany of loss. Reading from his sacred book, in a musical equivalent of davening praying , he chants ecstatically in a punishingly high tessitura.

The moment passes. Disillusioned, he removes his prayer paraphernalia. As the adult Menuchim enters, a crushed Mendel appears poised to renounce his faith. A Grand Pause, silence, and darkness combine to heighten the suspense. An orchestral interlude redirects attention to Mendel, who is clad in a white robe and is sitting on the bed. Called to the Passover Seder, he covers his ears. To shattering orchestral-choral music, the ghosts surround Mendel before proceeding to the table.

Singing in Hebrew, the children reestablish momentum. Although remaining apart, Mendel begins to chant. As the ghosts glide backward, Menuchim steps forward. Gradually slowing music prepares his portentous knock. After searching the cupboard, the father sees his son at the Seder table. Satisfied, Mendel returns to the bed.

Second, while acknowledging their indebtedness to Kafka, the collaborators quietly memorialized the unwitting instigator of this multi-generational effort.

Bypassing Kafka's synoptic prayer of thanksgiving, they staged Roth's ending in utter silence: And he rested from the weight of happiness and the greatness of miracles. To supplement the published reviews, I offer herewith my capsule assessment, beginning with the work's individual components. Drawn partly from the main company and partly from its opera studio, the soloists — all of whom acted convincingly — ranged, vocally, from capable to outstanding.

Daniel Grossmann elicited clean, intense, focused playing from the thirty-member Jakobsplatz Orchestra. Taking into consideration the Reithalle's physical limitations, I found the staging imaginative, especially the singing actors' exploitation of the performance space.

Their advances, retreats, lateral movements, couplings, and partings underscored the unfolding narrative more effectively than did the manipulations of the billowing curtain and the sporadic video projections. I applaud the Bavarian State Opera for investing the thought, time, effort, resources, and creative energy required to mount Zeisls Hiob.

Back in Los Angeles, I pondered two larger, interconnected questions — one speculative, the other aesthetic — concerning the opera as a whole. The speculative question is: As an advocate, I wish it a long, fruitful stage life.

Accordingly, I submit this wish list for future productions: Admittedly, costs would soar. On the other hand, at very little additional expense an expanded leaflet could profitably incorporate a synopsis, a compelling argument for the viability of the multi-generational strategy, and some tantalizing hints of the singular experience to come.

Although I found the entire production enthralling, on first view the America segment puzzled me, despite its beauty, intensity, and sense of urgency.

This mixed reaction prompted the second, aesthetic question: Although I was initially skeptical, through subsequent viewings I have come to embrace Zeisls Hiob as an entity, an effective conjunction of two dramatically different manners of storytelling and musical composition that serve a single overarching narrative. The forebears raised fundamental questions in their way; the descendants respond in theirs.

As powerfully demonstrated by the very structure of Zeisls Hiob's, tensions inevitably arise. In the end, however, the generations reconcile; the story is finished.

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In fact, Zeisl's Act II, Scene 2, is still firmly rooted in Poland and is laden with potent dramatic situations that elicited five of his greatest scenic complexes. In my opinion, this crowning scene is Zeisl's musical epitaph, in two senses: It is a Friday evening in late summer, one to two years later, on a street in the village of Zuchnow.

A Vesper hymn initiates a solemn prayer scene. A shocking confrontation ensues. Before rising to yet greater expressive heights, Zeisl inserts an episode for two drunks. Some might find comedy in Kafka's text, but Miron Hakenbeck detected menace. The narrative's main thread resumes with Zeisl's most erotic scene, the Cossack Michael's seduction of Mirjam or vice versa.

Capping the complex is a mighty choral fugue with solo interjections by the principals. I submit that if Zeisl had lived, he would have composed another segment of roughly two hours in length and would have divided a shortened Kafka text into Acts III Scenes 1 and 2 and IV.

The resulting palindromic structure would have counterbalanced Act I's focus on the sickly boy with Act IV's focus on the adult Menuchim. But this is pure speculation on my part. Zeisl's journey ended; either Hiob would remain incomplete, or others would have to finish it.

On the unaltered set, Mendel and Deborah appear in the foreground. Behind them, Mike formerly Michael and Mirjam dress. In a reversal of Act I, the students teach Mendel English: Blurred timelines, the suggestion or conflation of events, abrupt transitions, and unpredictable changes of momentum become the new norm. An intense orchestral passage, a quintet for the principals, and an ominous choral entry signal gathering storm clouds.

Calamities mount: As the climax of this twenty-first-century mad scene, she is rolled off on a gurney, accompanied by gleefully singing, waving children and the din of a town band. Dark, richly scored funeral music for orchestra and chorus punctuates this litany of loss. Reading from his sacred book, in a musical equivalent of davening praying , he chants ecstatically in a punishingly high tessitura.

The moment passes. Disillusioned, he removes his prayer paraphernalia. As the adult Menuchim enters, a crushed Mendel appears poised to renounce his faith. A Grand Pause, silence, and darkness combine to heighten the suspense. An orchestral interlude redirects attention to Mendel, who is clad in a white robe and is sitting on the bed.

Called to the Passover Seder, he covers his ears. To shattering orchestral-choral music, the ghosts surround Mendel before proceeding to the table. Singing in Hebrew, the children reestablish momentum. Although remaining apart, Mendel begins to chant. As the ghosts glide backward, Menuchim steps forward. Gradually slowing music prepares his portentous knock. After searching the cupboard, the father sees his son at the Seder table.

Satisfied, Mendel returns to the bed. Second, while acknowledging their indebtedness to Kafka, the collaborators quietly memorialized the unwitting instigator of this multi-generational effort.

Bypassing Kafka's synoptic prayer of thanksgiving, they staged Roth's ending in utter silence: And he rested from the weight of happiness and the greatness of miracles. To supplement the published reviews, I offer herewith my capsule assessment, beginning with the work's individual components. Drawn partly from the main company and partly from its opera studio, the soloists — all of whom acted convincingly — ranged, vocally, from capable to outstanding.

Daniel Grossmann elicited clean, intense, focused playing from the thirty-member Jakobsplatz Orchestra. Taking into consideration the Reithalle's physical limitations, I found the staging imaginative, especially the singing actors' exploitation of the performance space. Their advances, retreats, lateral movements, couplings, and partings underscored the unfolding narrative more effectively than did the manipulations of the billowing curtain and the sporadic video projections.

I applaud the Bavarian State Opera for investing the thought, time, effort, resources, and creative energy required to mount Zeisls Hiob.

Back in Los Angeles, I pondered two larger, interconnected questions — one speculative, the other aesthetic — concerning the opera as a whole. The speculative question is: As an advocate, I wish it a long, fruitful stage life. Accordingly, I submit this wish list for future productions: Admittedly, costs would soar. On the other hand, at very little additional expense an expanded leaflet could profitably incorporate a synopsis, a compelling argument for the viability of the multi-generational strategy, and some tantalizing hints of the singular experience to come.

Although I found the entire production enthralling, on first view the America segment puzzled me, despite its beauty, intensity, and sense of urgency. This mixed reaction prompted the second, aesthetic question: Although I was initially skeptical, through subsequent viewings I have come to embrace Zeisls Hiob as an entity, an effective conjunction of two dramatically different manners of storytelling and musical composition that serve a single overarching narrative.

The forebears raised fundamental questions in their way; the descendants respond in theirs. As powerfully demonstrated by the very structure of Zeisls Hiob's, tensions inevitably arise. In the end, however, the generations reconcile; the story is finished.

As repeated viewings continue to reveal new facets, I fervently hope that the production history of this miracle in Munich has only just begun. Ross Benjamin Brooklyn, NY: Unfortunately, there was no plot synopsis or explanation of the creative team's strategy. Synagogue lamps hung overhead. A high, railed platform stood at the rear. In the center, a vacant space stood ready to accommodate a billowing curtain and, at times, a video screen.

Representing the younger composer, tenor Matthew Grills chanted individual English words and clusters that ultimately cohered into an eloquent articulation of the challenge: The stylistic amalgam of East and West that Zeisl had developed to complement Roth's Hebraic subject matter was immediately projected.

Zeisl's music unfolds in a manner reminiscent of Wagnerian music drama. Organized into a series of scenic complexes, the narrative advances through an arioso-like Sprechgesang, with set-pieces embedded to allow ample operatic responses to key events.

Orchestral transitions serve, structurally, to link the complexes and to raise or lower the emotional temperature of the drama. In his living room, Mendel attempts to instruct a group of students who would rather mock the sickly Menuchim. Ensuing dialogue between Mendel and his wife, Deborah, yields character portraits of the couple's three healthy children: The voice of the Lord will speak through him.

Never must Deborah leave him. Alas, their joy is short-lived. The healthy sons face military conscription, and Mirjam finds uniformed Cossacks irresistible. Parents and offspring unite to perform a quintet, cast in the style of a Russian dance. Conceived as a vast ritornello complex, a surging crowd scene unfolds. To conclude, Mendel and Deborah ecstatically sing a chant-like duet in which the text's bright promise is contradicted by a descending, chromatic ground bass, the centuries-old musical symbol of suffering and death.

During the intermission, viewers wondered whether the break signaled the end of the Europe segment. In fact, Zeisl's Act II, Scene 2, is still firmly rooted in Poland and is laden with potent dramatic situations that elicited five of his greatest scenic complexes. In my opinion, this crowning scene is Zeisl's musical epitaph, in two senses: It is a Friday evening in late summer, one to two years later, on a street in the village of Zuchnow.

A Vesper hymn initiates a solemn prayer scene. A shocking confrontation ensues. Before rising to yet greater expressive heights, Zeisl inserts an episode for two drunks.

Some might find comedy in Kafka's text, but Miron Hakenbeck detected menace. The narrative's main thread resumes with Zeisl's most erotic scene, the Cossack Michael's seduction of Mirjam or vice versa. Capping the complex is a mighty choral fugue with solo interjections by the principals. I submit that if Zeisl had lived, he would have composed another segment of roughly two hours in length and would have divided a shortened Kafka text into Acts III Scenes 1 and 2 and IV.

The resulting palindromic structure would have counterbalanced Act I's focus on the sickly boy with Act IV's focus on the adult Menuchim. But this is pure speculation on my part. Zeisl's journey ended; either Hiob would remain incomplete, or others would have to finish it.

On the unaltered set, Mendel and Deborah appear in the foreground. Behind them, Mike formerly Michael and Mirjam dress. In a reversal of Act I, the students teach Mendel English: Blurred timelines, the suggestion or conflation of events, abrupt transitions, and unpredictable changes of momentum become the new norm. An intense orchestral passage, a quintet for the principals, and an ominous choral entry signal gathering storm clouds.

Calamities mount: As the climax of this twenty-first-century mad scene, she is rolled off on a gurney, accompanied by gleefully singing, waving children and the din of a town band. Dark, richly scored funeral music for orchestra and chorus punctuates this litany of loss. Reading from his sacred book, in a musical equivalent of davening praying , he chants ecstatically in a punishingly high tessitura. The moment passes. Disillusioned, he removes his prayer paraphernalia.

As the adult Menuchim enters, a crushed Mendel appears poised to renounce his faith. A Grand Pause, silence, and darkness combine to heighten the suspense. An orchestral interlude redirects attention to Mendel, who is clad in a white robe and is sitting on the bed. Called to the Passover Seder, he covers his ears. To shattering orchestral-choral music, the ghosts surround Mendel before proceeding to the table. Singing in Hebrew, the children reestablish momentum.

Although remaining apart, Mendel begins to chant. As the ghosts glide backward, Menuchim steps forward. Gradually slowing music prepares his portentous knock. After searching the cupboard, the father sees his son at the Seder table.

Satisfied, Mendel returns to the bed. Second, while acknowledging their indebtedness to Kafka, the collaborators quietly memorialized the unwitting instigator of this multi-generational effort. Bypassing Kafka's synoptic prayer of thanksgiving, they staged Roth's ending in utter silence: And he rested from the weight of happiness and the greatness of miracles.

To supplement the published reviews, I offer herewith my capsule assessment, beginning with the work's individual components.

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