On the Horizon: “The Dybbuk” as Opera
THE premiere of David Tamkin’s operatic version of The Dybbuk, presented by the New York City Opera Company this past October 4, comes a quarter of a century after the Habimah troupe from Moscow first made its entry into the European theatrical world with its production of the Ansky play. Both the play and the players became famous overnight, and both have continued to hold a special place in the modem drama. Habimah is now the national theater of Israel, and The Dybbuk has become a kind of cultural monument, representing even to many who have never seen it a “classic” of Jewish and world literature.
Even after all these years-and such unhappy years-one can still recall something of the peculiarly electrifying effect of the 1925 production on the cosmopolitan audience of the German capital in those days of cultural ferment. The Berlin critics, always on the alert against any artistic falsity, at once recognized in The Dybbuk a genuinely fresh note. This somber drama of demonic possession was more than folklore, and more than “good theater”; it was a deeply true evocation of a life that, mysteriously, was still going on in the towns and hamlets of Eastern Europe-a life governed by ancient commandments and rites, where the possibilities of good and evil retained an immediate reality which had long been lost in the more enlightened atmosphere of the West; perhaps, among other things, The Dybbuk owed its success in Berlin to a certain uneasy awareness of the limits of enlightenment.
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