"The Dybbuk" becomes Operatic: 1951 & 1952

Submitted by mb3437 on November 9, 2014 - 3:29pm

S. An-Sky’s, “The Dybbuk” – Der dibek-- is based on An-sky’s ethnographic tour of Jewish towns in western Russia before World War I. [1] Though “The Dybbuk” was only performed on stage following An-sky’s death, it remains a classic Yiddish play that has been adapted in its many varied productions over the past 90 years. The play saw a unique adaptation in 1951, as Alexander and David Tamkin transformed “The Dybbuk” into an opera.[2] The show premiered on October 4, 1951 at City Center in New York, New York and ran until 1952. Joseph Rosenstock conducted the performance and Alex Tamkin delineated the voice parts as follows: 

[3] Image Source: http://www.boosey.com/pages/opera/moreDetails.asp?musicID=1788

 

 

David Tamkin imagined his opera while viewing an American version of An-sky’s play as a young man. He believed that the classic Yiddish play was an “opera without music.” He was inspired by the inflections of the Yiddish language and the Jewish folk tales, as well as intrigued by the idea of turning Yiddish mysticism into music. Tamkin and his brother began work on their opera in 1931.[4]

According to critic Chemjo Vinaver, who reviewed the performance after its first showing, Tamkin did not successfully represent the traditional Hasidic sentiment in his opera:

“It must be reported, regretfully, that Mr. Tamkin, for all the enthusiasm that greeted his work, has not succeeded in writing “the” opera of The Dybbuk. He proves himself a skillful musician, adept at instrumentation, and he deserves praise for a generally judicious treatment of the singing voice. But he lacks any deeper knowledge of Hasidic life, and seems insufficiently conversant with the traditional Hasidic musical idiom. There is little justification for turning a good play into an opera unless the operatic form deepens the impact and meaning of the drama, and this Mr. Tamkin’s treatment does not achieve.”[5]

 

As Vinaver asserts, Tamkin was a skillful musician, however, he did not believe that the intensity of the Hasidic tradition was amplified in Tamkin’s opera.

            One of the songs featured in Tamkin’s three act opera was Lord of the Earth!:

.[6] Image Source: http://www.milkenarchive.org/works/view/653#/works/lyrics/653

Lord of the Earth! is from the opening scene of Act 1 and captures a distressed elderly woman rushing into a synagogue with two children. She pleads with God to spare the children’s mother who is nearing death. The elderly woman is unable to offer a customary token of charity in order for the recitation of Psalms by the minyan -- this reflects the divide between the poor and the pious -- a theme that exists throughout An-sky's play.[7] 

The beautiful songs of Tamkin's opera were collected in this video. 

The Dybbuk Opera David Tamkin 1951:

 

 

Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yzpDGI4uJg

 

           Though critic, Chemjo Vinaver, was not impressed with Tamkin’s production, he did remark on the American audience’s positive reception of the story. As Vinaver says, “It is consoling to think that there are still people capable of being carried away by the image of so irrational and mysterious a world as that of this play, and one wonders whether after all there may not be the possibility in this country of a Jewish culture above the borscht-and-bagels level that some of our entrepreneurs of culture seem to have decided is all we can take.”[8] David and Alexander Tamkin were able to bring S. An-sky’s “The Dybbuk” to the opera stage and maintain the integrity of An-sky's folklore tale. The Tamkin brothers allowed an American audience to experience "The Dybbuk" in a new and reimagined way. 

 

Foot Notes:


[1] Steinlauf, Michael C. "Dybbuk, The." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe 5 August 2010. <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Dybbuk_The>.

[2] Carson, Margaret. "Dybbuk." Leonardbernstein.com. The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc., 16 May 1974. Web. <http://www.leonardbernstein.com/works_dybbuk.htm>.

[4]Levin, Neil W. "The Dybbuk." Milken Archive of Jewish Music. <http://www.milkenarchive.org/works/view/653#/works/view/653/full>.

[5] Vinaver, Chemjo. "On the Horizon: “The Dybbuk” as Opera." Commentary Magazine. N.p., 1 Nov. 1951. Web. <http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/on-the-horizon-the-dybbuk-as-o....

[6] Excerpts of David Tamkin's "The Dybbuk." Milken Archive of Jewish Music. <http://www.milkenarchive.org/works/view/653#/works/lyrics/653>.

[7] Levin, Neil W. "The Dybbuk." Milken Archive of Jewish Music. <http://www.milkenarchive.org/works/view/653#/works/view/653/full>.

[8] Vinaver, Chemjo. "On the Horizon: “The Dybbuk” as Opera." Commentary Magazine. N.p., 1 Nov. 1951. Web. <http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/on-the-horizon-the-dybbuk-as-o....

Work Cited:

Carson, Margaret. "Dybbuk." Leonardbernstein.com. The Leonard Bernstein Office, Inc., 16 May 1974. Web. <http://www.leonardbernstein.com/works_dybbuk.htm>.

Levin, Neil W. "The Dybbuk." Milken Archive of Jewish Music. <http://www.milkenarchive.org/works/view/653#/works/view/653/full>.
 
Steinlauf, Michael C. "Dybbuk, The." YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe 5 August 2010. <http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Dybbuk_The>.
 
Vinaver, Chemjo. "On the Horizon: “The Dybbuk” as Opera." Commentary Magazine. N.p., 1 Nov. 1951. Web. <http://www.commentarymagazine.com/article/on-the-horizon-the-dybbuk-as-o....