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Memory of Fire
March 3, 2017 @ 8:00 pm - March 12, 2017 @ 11:00 pm
An American team of artists led by Grammy Award winning composer Frank London, and including librettist Elise Thoron, dramaturge Michael Posnick and Music-Theatre Group’s Diane Wondisford, is partnering with Cuba’s La Opera de la Calle – Ulises Aquino’s innovative company dedicated to bringing opera to all – for the inaugural performances of the Yiddish-Cuban opera, Hatuey: Memory of Fire
The work springs from the 1931 epic poem celebrating Cuba’s indigenous freedom fighter, Hatuey, and written in Yiddish by Ukrainian refugee Oscar Pinis (who later took the name of Ascher Penn). The first U.S. collaboration with the popular La Opera de la Calle, this project will be presented from March 3-12, 2017 at Havana’s Teatro Arenal, under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, before entering the company’s ongoing repertoire.
It is also performed as part of the first Celebration of Cuban Jewish Culture, taking place from March 2—5, 2017.
When & where
Friday March 3 - Sunday March 12, 2017
Teatro Arenal, Calle 31 between 42nd and 44th
“For the last 40 years, I’ve been immersed in Yiddish, Afro-Cuban and contemporary music, thru research, performing and composing,” Frank London notes. “When I discovered the poem Hatuey, written by a Yiddish exile, and decided to write the opera, it was as if all the facets of my life coalesced. I’m delighted to see it presented first in Cuba, where we can fully explore the musical and historical roots of the piece. The ability of the people to transcend the severe material privation still prevalent in the country in order to create art speaks to the heart of the opera — to Hatuey’s spirit.”
Although the poem Hatuey was translated into Spanish in 1935 and taught in Cuban high schools, few are aware of its Yiddish roots. The opera will offer a new perspective on the folk hero, uniting his story with Jewish immigration to Cuba. Set in a Havana nightclub in 1931, it portrays the young Yiddish poet Oscar Pinis who falls in love with a singer of Taino descent and is drawn into her revolutionary activities against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado. All the while, Oscar is penning a poem on the Taino leader Hatuey, who died at the stake for resisting the Spanish conquistadors in 1511. Having fled Ukraine’s pogroms, where he lost family and friends, he writes to celebrate his new homeland, Cuba, and in powerful verses decries the violence done by the Spanish to the indigenous Taino population. As characters shift in time and place from 1931 Havana (sung in Spanish) to the world of Oscar’s poem where Hatuey encounters conquistador Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar (sung in Yiddish and Spanish), the stories intertwine and inform each other, all addressing the undying fight for freedom around the globe.
This production is scored for seven singers and La Opera de la Calle’s idiosyncratic orchestra (guitar, bass, three keyboards, and five percussionists doubling on Afro-Cuban and Western classical instruments). London’s original score combines Jewish and Afro-Cuban music, avant-garde contemporary classical and jazz, and 16th-century Spanish and Italian vocal music; and the music moves seamlessly from an Afro-Cuban rumba with Janacek-inspired harmonies, to tunes mixing Jewish holiday liturgy with traditional chants and drumming of the Yoruba as practiced in Cuba.
Hatuey: Memory of Fire has been in development in the U.S. with Diane Wondisford and Music-Theatre Group and Sundance Theater Program. It was started at a residency at the Ucross Foundation, and workshopped at Sundance Lab at Mass MoCA in 2014, Music-Theatre Group workshop in 2015, and Opera de la Calle in Cub
Recently knighted by the Republic of Hungary for his far-reaching influence on the Klezmer music and contributions to the preservation of Hungarian-Jewish music and culture, Frank London is a Grammy-award winning composer and trumpeter, founder of the Klezmatics and leader of bhangra/Yiddish group Sharabi (with Deep Singh), Shekhinah Big Band, and his Klezmer Brass Allstars. He has made over 40 recordings of his own music, the latest being Glass House Orchestra I Jewish music from Astro-Hungary; has performed and recorded with John Zorn, Karen O, Itzhak Perlman, Pink Floyd, LL Cool J, Mel Tormé, Lester Bowie, Tito Allen, Celia Cruz, LaMonte Young, They Might Be Giants, David Byrne, Jane Siberry, Ben Folds 5, Mark Ribot, and is featured on over 400 CDs. As a composer, his large-scale collaborative projects include the folk-opera A Night In The Old Marketplace (based on Y.L. Peretz's 1907 play), the multi-media dance/poetry/video Salomé, Woman of Valor (with Adeena Karasick), Davenen for Pilobolus Dance Theater, Great Small Works' The Memoirs Of Gluckel Of Hameln and Min Tanaka's Romance. His first symphony, 1001 Voices: A Symphony for Queens (text - Judith Sloan, video - Warren Lehrer) for orchestra, chorus, soloists, tabla, erhu, narrator, actors and film premiered in 2012. Green Violin, a collaboration with Elise Thoron based on Chagall’s paintings for the Soviet Yiddish theater, won the Barrymore Prize for Best New Musical, and has been performed in Russia, Holland and the US. He also composed music for John Sayles' The Brother From Another Planet, Yvonne Rainer's Murder And Murder, the Czech-American Marionette Theater¹s Golem and Tamar Rogoff's Ivye Project. London is Artistic Director of KlezKanada, was music director for David Byrne and Robert Wilson’s The Knee Plays and has been featured on HBO’s Sex And The City.
Elise Thoron (writer) is a playwright, director, translator, who brings stories not widely heard to life on stage. Her plays have been produced in the United States, Europe, Japan:Green Violin, with music by Frank London, (Nine Contemporary Jewish Plays); Prozak and the Platypus, with music by Jill Sobule (CD/graphic novella); Charlotte: Life? Or Theater?based on paintings by German Jewish artist, Charlotte Salomon; and Recycling: washi tales, an ongoing collaboration with distinguished Japanese paper artist, Kyoko Ibe. For over twenty years, Thoron created cross-cultural exchanges with Russian and American theater artists with the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. She adapted and directed The Great Gatsbyin Russian at a The Pushkin Theater in Moscow, where it played for over nine years. As Associate Artistic Director at American Place Theatre, she developed and directed many new plays and solo shows, and co-founded, with Artistic Director, Wynn Handman, Literature to Life, a highly successful theater literacy program now nationwide. She developed Tony award winning spoken word poet Lemon Andersen’s County of Kings, first for students, before directing it at The Public Theater, Spoleto Festival, and venues around the world. Thoron directed Lemon’s play ToasT about the Attica prison uprising at The Public Theater (2015). As part of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play On!, she has been commissioned to “translate” Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice into contemporary English, first reading at LOCAL Theater Company new play lab in Boulder, March, 2017. www.elisethoron.com