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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Weisman: Darkling; Diamond: AHAVA-Brotherhood

04/06/2014 1:00 pm
04/06/2014 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

During the Lenten period I like to program vocal music that reflects upon some aspect of the Judaic heritage, this in anticipation of the upcoming Passover holiday. The Holocaust is the signal event of the twentieth century for Jews worldwide. It was even the inspiration for an opera: Darkling (2010), with music by Stefan Weisman and libretto by Anna Rabinowitz. The title refers to "The Darkling Thrush," a poem by Thomas Hardy.

Darkling, the Holocaust opera, actually concerns itself with the period between the World Wars. Eastern European Jewry would soon be wiped out, leaving only dim, fragmentary memories of people and communities. Darkling gives voice to those memories. It poses the question: who will acknowledge things of Darkness as their own? Produced by American Opera Projects, Darkling is a multimedia theatrical conception calling for four singing voices, string quartet and a host of spoken-word participants. Brian DeMaris is the conductor. Albany Records released Darkling on two compact discs in 2011.

Aaron Copland (1900-1994) is honored as the dean of all American composers in the twentieth century. Copland is also Jewish, but his younger colleague David Diamond (1914-2006) should rightly be regarded as the dean of American Jewish composers of the last century. Diamond was commissioned to compose something in celebration of the tercentenary of the founding of the Jewish community in the United States. He came up with a large-scale work for narrator and orchestra he called AHAVA-Brotherhood. Diamond assembled his own text from passages in Hebrew Scripture, the writings of the sage Hillel, the Union Prayerbook and poets Moses Ibn Ezra and Yeduda Halevi. AHAVA entreats us to share a universal compassion among all faiths, races and ethnicities.

When AHAVA premiered in Washington, DC in 1954 the actor Lorne Green was the narrator. AHAVA was recorded in 1998 with Theodor Bikel as speaker (and singer, too), backed by the Seattle Symphony under Gerard Schwarz's direction. The world premiere recording of AHAVA-Brotherhood comes to us from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music and courtesy of Naxos Records. Naxos has been issuing a series from this historic collection. This one is a single CD issue from 2004. Also included on this CD are choral and solo voice settings of prayers in the Jewish liturgy by Diamond, Morton Gould, Roy Harris and Douglas Moore. All of these, too, were recorded for the first time.