Operatic Trilogy At Juilliard
The Juilliard Opera Center presented a most unusual evening in November at its Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Billed as "Trilogy: 3 One-Act Portraits of Marriage," it consisted of operas by Modest Mussorgsky, Zhenitba (The Marriage), completed and orchestrated by Alexander Tcherepnin, based on the comedic social satire by Gogol; Ernst Krenek's Schwergewicht, oder Die Ehre der Nation (Heavyweight, or The Pride of the Nation); and Benjamin Iossifovitch Fleischmann's Skripka Rotshilda (Rothschild's Violin) completed and orchestrated by Dmitri Shostakovich, after a short story by Chekhov. All operas were performed in their original language with English supertitles. The entire production was conceived and conducted by James Conlon who has made a heroic contribution to bringing to public consciousness the works of composers whose lives and compositions were suppressed by the Nazi regime. James Marvel directed the excellent cast and Jeanne Slater was responsible for the vivacious choreography.
The Krenek opera is a delight, both musically and textually, and stems from the composer's most fecund period, the same year (1928) as Weill's Dreigroschenoper and just three years after Jonny spielt auf.
A scene from Ernst Krenek's "Heavyweight, or The Pride of a Nation" Photo credit: Nan Melville
For those not familiar with Benjamin Fleischmann (1913-1941), Janet Kessin's insightful program note tells us that he was a Shostakovich student who, having volunteered for the People's Brigade, disappeared during the Battle of Leningrad. She writes: "Shostakovich is known to have felt paternally about his students, and in this case, his devotion led him to complete the vocal score and create the orchestrations, which he finished in 1943. It was an act of bravery for Shostakovich as well, coming just before Stalin's purges against Russian Jews. Both Fleischmann and Chekhov's main character, the musician Rothschild, were Jewish. Only five years later, in 1948, Shostakovich's own music would be attacked by the Stalinist regime."