Flatiron Hot! Critic: “The Golden Bride” – Recreation of Lost Operetta Brings Back Heyday of Yiddish Theater
- Tod Shapiro
- On July 14, 2016
Reported by Tod Shapiro and Edited by The Flatiron Hot! News Editorial Staff
Hop on the 1 train from Chelsea and head to the tip of Manhattan, and you have the opportunity to enjoy yet another cultural gem in the World’s Greatest City! New York has a seemingly endless series of fantastic museums and venues that cover almost every facet of history and culture, one of which is the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan, just a short walk from the newly reconstructed World Trade Center. The museum’s beautiful auditorium is the site for the performances of “The Golden Bride“, a Yiddish operetta from the golden age of Yiddish theater, when New York City hosted a substantial population of Jewish immigrants, who though they were happy and eager first-generation Americans looking to make their way in the new world, still spoke their native language, Yiddish, and partook in a lively Yiddish culture, including newspapers (like The Forward), theater and, as with The Golden Bride, even strikingly original and beautiful operettas! The interested tourist, after perusing the Museum’s striking and educational series of exhibits marking Jewish history and the Holocaust, can enjoy lectures, films, and even impressive theatrical productions in their auditorium.
New Yorkers of Jewish heritage are well aware of the history of Yiddish theater, as well as its singular role in perpetuating Jewish life and culture in the New World, through the efforts of organizations like the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and the many young people who have studied Yiddish language, poetry, and literature as part of an effort to keep it alive. The wider public remembers such historical works as Howe’s World of our Fathers, and the many public programs sponsored by YIVO at the Center for Jewish History which have featured as their topics the role of Yiddish culture, among other things. Having seen faded black and white pictures, film clips, and the occasional restored Yiddish film, I could only imagine what the Yiddish musical theater, performed at the fabled Lower East Side venues in the early to mid-20th century might have been like. For all lovers of Jewish history like myself, it is an unexpected pleasure to be able to experience the real thing, as it was performed nearly 100 years ago, and was enjoyed by our first-generation immigrant forebears.
This gem of of a production (click here for the recent New York Times review) was first performed in 1923 at the famed Second Avenue Theater. Spoken and sung completely in Yiddish, but with “supertitles” in English and Russian for the modern audience, it is the result of a remarkable tale of musical restoration and archival research. Musical scholars were able to recreate the libretto and musical score of this operetta, which was an acknowledged classic of Yiddish musical theater, but whose music and story had seemingly vanished along with its original audience, only recollected in memory and old newspaper clippings. It turns out that scholars were able to piece together the music and story, which turned up in archives in bits and pieces in various places around the country, and stage a full production last winter, to great acclaim. It proved so successful that it has been brought back for a second run this summer.
The entire cast is extremely talented and many of the actors have beautiful, operatic voices. The story itself is timeless and speaks to the American Jewish immigrant experience in a universal way. The music is lively and engaging, and foreshadows the Broadway musical theater of the later 20th century – catchy, melodic, and surprisingly current! The show, a little over two hours in length, sped by in a flash. The first act takes place in “the old country,” involving a young woman who inherits a fortune from her her father in America when he passes away, but has to go to the New World to inherit the money and start her new life. Of course, her windfall causes her to have a surfeit of prospective suitors who now wish to marry her, including her childhood sweetheart and one true love. How to decide? She sets her suitors the task of finding her beloved, missing mother, who had to give her over to the care of her relatives shortly after she was born. The first act splendidly and humorously acted out in old-style costumes and mannerisms, portrays the kind of passions, loves, and interests of the time, as well as the appeal of America.
The second act, with our heroine now in New York, shows her learning English, dealing with modern pleasures and dress in New York City, as her suitors show up with multiple versions of her supposed mother until, of course, her one true love actually does find her mother and brings the story to a happy end! The production melds the Yiddish tunes, dialogue and colorful sets seamlessly with some snappy dance numbers and well-timed comedic acting. Walking out after two hours, it seemed as if I had seen something remarkably similar to a Broadway show – indeed, one can see why the Yiddish theater was so popular and appealing to its audience of the day.
All in all, an evening of lively fun and well worth a trip downtown.
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