1936 "Il Dibuk" Performance at Carnegie Hall

Submitted by fgb2106 on November 8, 2014 - 6:57pm

Frances Bernstein                                                                                                

The play “The Dybbuk”, written in 1914 by S. An-Sky, is one in which has earned world renownked acclaim, and years of reproductions. The play, originally written in Yiddish, has been translated into many different languages, and reproduced as movies, plays and opera performances by different directors and composers. One notable opera performance is the composition by Lodovico Rocca, which debuted first in Europe and then in the United States in 1936. Lodovico Rocca was an Italian composer from Turin, who wrote five operas, the most famous entitled “Il Dibuk.” [1]  Inspired by An-Sky's "The Dybbuk", Rocca wrote his opera and gained himself world wide fame because of its success. 

Rocca was influenced to write the story of the Dybbuk into an opera after seeing the Vilna Troupe perform in in Milan. [5] The Vilna Trope performed An-Sky's play, and prompted Rocca to focus his efforts on the conversion into opera. Although he was influenced by the Yiddish play, it was unlikely Lodovico was Jewish as he maintained his position as director of the Turin Conservatory throughout World War II. [2] Rocca was on a Nazi list of banned composers, but it is assumed that this was because of his work on the opera Il Dibuk, and not because he himself was Jewish. [3] He wrote the opera as anti-semitic fascim was on the rise in Italy, which further explains why, as a non-Jewish composer, he was watched by the Nazis because of his interest in "The Dybbuk". [4] 

  

Lodovico Rocca in the 1930s 

Image source: University of Massachusettes-Amhearst Archives  archive.org/details/ildibukleggendad00rocc

"Il Dibuk" was first performed in La Scala Milan in March, 1934. The opera was originally performed in Italian, but then translated into English by Archie Coates when it premiered in the United States.[6] Prior to 1936, the opera was performed throughout Europe, and then made its debut in the United States. The premiere of the opera was on May 6th in Detroit. The orchestra and cast then travelled to Chicago for two nights and came to New York immediately following those performances, to then continue onward throughout the Northeast performing Rocca's "Il Dibuk." [7]

A program for the Lodovicco Opera premiere in Detroit. Image source: www.operanostalgia.be/

 

"Il Dibuk" is a three act opera. There was the Prologue, which took place in Spain, Act I which took place in an old synagogue in Brinitza, Act II in a Public Square in Brinitza at sunset and Act III In the House of Rabbi Ezriel of Miropol. [8] The opera was performed at Carnegie Hall, and conducted by Franco Ghione. The premiere at Carnegie Hall was sponsored in part by the Detroit Civic Opera Company, and Ghione came to America specifically in order to conduct the opera. He was the same conductor for the opera when in opened at La Scala in Milan, which was highly regarded. His coming to the United States in order to conduct the opera was funded by the Detroit Civic Opera Company. [9]

The first two pages of the opera by Lodovico Rocca, University of Massachusetts- Amherst Archives 

Image Source: archive.org/details/ildibukleggendad00rocc

 

The musical clip below, although from 1982, is the final performance of Lodovico Rossa’s Il Dibbuk performance. The musical score and composition are the same as they were in the original performance in 1936 and provided the listener a good opportunity to imagine what the 1936 opera sounded like. 

 

 

 

 

Video source: www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1lObtvClsQ 

The opera was a long and complicated story. There were nineteen performers, in addition to the Orchestra members. Leading cast members were Joseph Royer, a Baritone played the part of Reb Sender, Rosa Raisa, a soprano, played Leah and Frederick Jagel, a tenor, played Hanan. [10] Below is a list of the full cast of the opera. 

Joseph Royer, Baritone (Reb Sender)
Rosa Raisa, Soprano (Leah)
Pauline Pierce, Mezzo-Soprano (Frade)
Frederick Jagel, Tenor (Hanan)
Nino Ruisi, Bass (Reb Ezriel)
Paul Oncley, Baritone (Michael; Nachman)
Ivan Ivantzoff, Tenor (The Messenger)
Gean Greenwell, Bass (Maier; The Voice of Nissen)
George Gordon, Tenor (Menashe)
Josef Kallini, Tenor (First Batlon)
John Bacon, Unspecified Voice (Second Batlon)
Marguerite Hawkins, Soprano (A Woman; Gitel)
Joy Sweet, Unspecified Voice (Another Woman)
Helen Schwedova, Unspecified Voice (Basia)
Gretchen Haller, Contralto (The Blind Woman (death))
Myron Taylor, Unspecified Voice (The Cantor)
George Chaffee, Dancer
Anne Wolfson, Dancer
Vladimir Valentinoff, Dancer
Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra

 

 

Rosa Raisa as Leah, Charles, Mintzer “Rosa Raisa: A Biography of a Diva with Selections from Her Memoirs.”

Image source: operanostalgia.be/html/Dibbuk.html

Carnegie Hall in 1936

Image Source: Library of Congress, loc.gov

Notably, the New York Times had elaborate coverage of the opera’s upcoming arrival to New York. The New York Times, especially in 1936, had a formidable reputation as the leading news source for national and international news, and therefore the articles about “The Dybbuk” helped to garner more acclaim for the already popular play, in addition to helping build anticipation for the opera. On April 12, 1936, the New York Times ran an article about the upcoming opera, referring to Ludovico Rocca’s opera as “one of the most successful of new operas.” [12] The article noted the success of the play in Europe, and excitement for it to come to New York. It is interesting to note that t"The Dybbuk" story must have been popularized enough that tthere is minimal explanation of the play converted into an opera in which is coming to New York. Instead, the article headlines the opera, and comments on the upcoming event as if to claim that most readers already knew about the play and would be intrigued to see the opera performance. This article is in the far left column of the following New York Times newspaper page, in the section of the Week's News and Comment Concerning Music. 

Image Source: nytimes.com

On Sunday May 10, 1936, The New York Times wrote a spotlight piece within the Week’s News and Comment Concerning Music section. The articled, headlined, “New York ‘Dybbuk’ Premiere,” by Olin Downes, starts the article with the following, “The principal musical offering of this week in New York will be the local premiere of the opera, or ‘lyric drama’ in three acts with prologue, by Lodovico Rocca after the famous play by Shalom Ansky (Rappaport of Vitebsk), ‘The Dybbuk.’” [13] Downes introduces the opera as the principal musical offering, emphasizing the popularity and anticipation of the opera coming to New York.

The opera was received positively in Detroit, with high praise and “resounding ovations” from the audience. [15] Yet unlike the positive feedback from the American debut, New York Times author Olin Downes, the same author who excitedly wrote about the upcoming performance, negatively reviewed the opera after is debut at Carnegie Hall.  Review critic Olin Downes was incredibly negative against the performances of the actors, as well as the opera writing. [16] He criticized the lead roles Frederick Jagel and Rosa Raisa, claiming Raisa “sang by no means impeccably” and discusses the composer “has not the slightest real feeling for his subject.” [17] Downes believes the translation from Italian to English was not well done, the music was often too loud and the composing, conducting and acting were lackluster. [18] 

Rocca's opera, despite the negative review, continued to be performed throughout the United States during 1936, and again throughout the decades following. One year after this opera was performed in the United States, in 1937, Michal Waszynski adapted the storyline to film, again showing the popularity of the story within Yiddish and American culture.  The movie, like the opera, was translated into English, although only via subtitles for the movie. Inspired by An-Sky, Lodovico Rocca created his most well- reknowned opera, and the music and legacy of The Dybbuk continues on through various mediums. 

 

 

[1] Waterhouse, John C.G. "Dibuk, Il." The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed. Stanley Sadie. Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.

[2] Rocca, Lodovico (29 Nov. 1895, Turin - 25 June 1986, There)." The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 6 November 2014.

[3] Bloom, Cecil. "The Dybbuk and George Gershwin." The Free Library 01 September 2008. 06 November 2014

[4] Wu, Ya-feng, Hsin-ying Li, and David Punter. Gothic Crossings: Medieval to Postmodern. Taipei, Taiwan: NTU, 2011, 4.

[5] Downes, Olin. “New York ‘Dybbuk’ Premiere.” The New York Times, May 10, 1936.

[6] Bloom, Cecil. "The Dybbuk and George Gershwin." The Free Library 01 September 2008. 

[7] Bloom, Cecil. "The Dybbuk and George Gershwin." The Free Library 01 September 2008. 

[8] Carnegie Hall "New York Premiere of Lodovico Rocca's The Dybbuk," carnegiehall.org

[9] “The Dybbuk in America”, New York Times, April 12, 1936.

[10 Carnegie Hall "New York Premiere of Lodovico Rocca's The Dybbuk," carnegiehall.org

[11] Carnegie Hall "New York Premiere of Lodovico Rocca's The Dybbuk," carnegiehall.org

[12] “The Dybbuk in America”, New York Times, April 12, 1936.

[13] Downes, Olin. “New York ‘Dybbuk’ Premiere.” The New York Times, May 10, 1936.

[14] Bloom, Cecil. "The Dybbuk and George Gershwin." The Free Library 01 September 2008. 06 November 2014

[15] New York Times, “Detroit Audience Lauds ‘The Dybbuk’”, May 7, 1936.

[16] Bloom, Cecil. "The Dybbuk and George Gershwin." The Free Library 01 September 2008. 06 November 2014

[17] Downes, Olin, “’The Dybbuk’ Sung at Carnegie Hall”, New York Times, May 15, 1936.  

[18] Downes, Olin, “’The Dybbuk’ Sung at Carnegie Hall”, New York Times, May 15, 1936.  

Works Cited:

Bloom, Cecil. "The Dybbuk and George Gershwin." The Free Library 01 September 2008. 06 November 2014

Carnegie Hall "New York Premiere of Lodovico Rocca's The Dybbuk," carnegiehall.org ​http://www.carnegiehall.org/widgets/opas/concertFrame.aspx?id=4622&pid=4294996644

“Detroit Audience Lauds ‘The Dybbuk’”, New York Times, May 7, 1936.

Downes, Olin, “’The Dybbuk’ Sung at Carnegie Hall”, New York Times, May 15, 1936.  

Mintzer, Charles. "Rosa Raisa: A Biography of a Diva with Selections from Her Memoirs" 

Rocca, Lodovico (29 Nov. 1895, Turin - 25 June 1986, There)." The Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003. Credo Reference. Web. 6 November 2014.

“The Dybbuk in America”, New York Times, April 12, 1936.

Waterhouse, John C.G.. "Dibuk, Il." The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Ed. Stanley Sadie. Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 6 Nov. 2014.

Wu, Ya-feng, Hsin-ying Li, and David Punter. Gothic Crossings: Medieval to Postmodern. Taipei, Taiwan: NTU, 2011.