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April 01, 1988 - Image 68

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-01

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Continued from preceding page

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mersed in the mysteries of the
kabbalah, the Jewish
mystical tradition.
The kabbalah has an
honorable history in Judaism
as a path toward knowledge of
God and His secrets of Crea-
tion and Redemption. Folk
tradition emphasized not the
kabbalah's esoteric elements,
but rather its underside —
"practical kaballah" — that
is, magic. It is through magic
that the heroes discomfit the
Baba Yaga, but Lebenbom
and Starkman say the resolu-
tion is more than just a func-
tion of "good magic versus
bad magic."
The resolution to the con-
flict, say the two composers,
comes through negotiation
and compromise. "Nobody
dies in this," Lebenbom em-
phasizes. "Nobody gets
everything. It's important for
children to learn ways of con-
flict resolution other than
shooting."
Lebenbom has composed
such works as a piano sonata,
which won the National
Federation of Music Club's
composition prize in 1970, a
woodwind quintet and a set of
solo pieces for oboe. She also
wrote a chamber work to ac-
company the poems of
medieval Sephardic poets
Shlomo Ibn Gavirol and
Yehudah Halevi.
It was a children's work by
Isaac Bashevis Singer, called
The Fearsome Inn, which set
the opera project into motion.
Lebenbom read the book back
in 1970 and discovered "that
thing sings."
Sensing that it would be a
good basis for a musical piece,
Lebenbom approached
Starkman to write a libretto.
Starkinan, an oboeist and
writer, taught at the Detroit
Community Music School
and was a founding member
of the Detroit Woodwind
Quintet.
Together,
the
pair
negotiated for the rights to
the Singer story but were of-
fered "a contract that was so
rapacious that nobody in
their right mind would accept
it."
Lebenbom and Starkman
dropped the idea of using The
Fearsome Inn and Starkman
began to develop an original
libretto based on her research
into East European Jewish
folk traditions.
Shortly before he won the
Nobel Prize for Literature in
1978, Singer appeared in
Detroit. Lebenbom and
Starkman approached the
author and told him how
their project was progressing
without his story. "He said, 'If
you make a hit with your
opera, you can have my
story, " Lebenbom recalls. "I

said, 'If it's a hit, I don't need
your story: A year later he
won the Nobel Prize.
"If no other distinction falls
upon me in my life, I've told
a Nobel Prize winner to go to
the devil," Lebenbom says,
laughing.
The Jewishness of The

Witch, The Wiseman and the
Fool is not overt and is main-

tained as a strong undercur-
rent, according to Starkman.
"We never say `kabbalah? We
say 'the forces of good are
greater than the forces of
evil! "
The composers' purpose is
to appeal to a wide, not just a
Jewish, audience. Starkman
says that even so, the Jewish
aspects of the opera are not
trivialized, and that any Jew
in the audience will certain-
ly come away enriched
Jewishly.
"There's no question that
someone who came knowing
nothing about this tradition
would come away finding out
a lot," she believes. "It's ex-
posing kids to the tradition."
Lebenbom's music conveys
Judaism in even more subtle

The composers'
purpose is to
appeal to a wide,
not just a Jewish,
audience.
Starkman says
Jewish aspects of
the opera are not
trivialized, and any
Jew will come
away enriched
Jewishly.

ways than the libretto. You
won't hear recognizable
strains of liturgical music like
Kol Nidre or folk songs like
Tumbalalaika in the opera,
and certainly no hints of er-
satz Judaica like Fiddler on
the Roof Still, says Leben-
bom, "Everything that we
have done is intertwined. It
all has to do with our
Jewishness. Things creep in
unconsciously?'
For example, Lebenbom was
surprised to discover her uses
of the number seven in the
score, a number with
religious significance in
Judaism. She intones one line
as an example: "Ba-ba Ya-ga
is my name." The line has
seven syllables. "I'm discover-
ing them almost after the
fact."
In pursuing their project,
the composers found that they
had ignited an intense in-
terest in Judaism and par-
ticularly Jewish music. On
the way to writing the opera,
Starkman says she learned

Hebrew and how to read the
Ibrah, studied about kab-
balah, numerology and
amulets. She and Lebenbom
taught a course on Jewish
music at the Midrasha based
on their research.
"It's all an outgrowth of
becoming involved in this pro-
ject," Starkman says.
For producer Marjorie Gor-
don, it's the music that
counts. "Our message is
through the music, not
through religion."
That message may well be
that there has always been an
authentic Jewish component
to Western music, a revelation
that appears to have startled
the three musicians.
"We grew up being taught
that there's music and then
there's Jewish music,"
Starkman says, marking
clearly defined areas on the
table in front of her as she
speaks. "Did Jewish music
have no influence on Western
music? It did. In that context,
there's a place for this [opera]
in Western music. But it's
Western music, not folk
music?'
No date has been set for
production of the opera,
although several sections of
the work have already been
performed publicly. Mounting
the work will depend on
finances and a search is
under way for a funding
source. "The scale of moun-
ting it will depend on how
much money there is,"
Starkman explains.
Despite the long road they
have taken to the completion
of their opera, Lebenbom and
Starkman are clearly still
very enthusiastic about their
creation. It is as if they can
hardly wait to unleash the
forces of good, compromise
and magic to do battle
against the forces of evil.



Southfield
Marks 30th

Twelve international dance
groups, ethnic foods and
beverages will be the bill of
fare at the city of Southfield's
official 30th anniversary
celebration, featuring the In-
ternational Folk Dance
Festival, on April 17, at the
Southfield Civic Center
Pavilion.
The event is sponsored by
the city of Southfield, the In-
ternational Institute of
Metropolitan Detroit and the
Detroit News as a fund raiser
for the institute's ethnic
enrichment programs.
Among participating
groups is Hora Aviv Israeli
Folk Dance Troupe. Tickets
are available at the Interna-
tional Institute, 871-7600.

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