The Arty Semite

Major UK Grant Will Unearth Forgotten Music

By Anne Joseph

A major international research arts project, “Performing the Jewish Archive,” has been awarded a grant of just over £1.5 million by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in the U.K., under the theme, “Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past.”

The project, headed by Russian music specialist Stephen Muir, a senior lecturer in Musicology and Performance at Leeds University, will bring rediscovered music and theatrical works by Jewish artists to the attention of academics and the public. As well as performing material that has lain dormant, forgotten, hidden or lost, Muir says that the grant will enable the creation of new works out of existing archives.

Muir, who is not Jewish, became interested in Jewish music approximately six or seven years ago. “For some reason the subject grabbed me, shook me up and made me think and I can’t let it go,” he said. His recent research has focused on the musical documentation of Russian and Polish Jewish composers who found their way to South Africa through displacement and migration. An opportune trip to Cape Town led to the discovery of a manuscript by Dovid Ajzensztadt, a major figure in Polish music in the 1920s who was murdered by the Nazis. Ajzensztadt’s lost Passover cantata, “Chad Gadya,” was performed for the first time since the Holocaust at a concert in Leeds earlier last year.

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Cantor by Day, Moroccan Pop Star by Night

By Michael Kaminer

Samy Elmaghribi was a hugely popular Moroccan-music star. Salomon Amzallag was a beloved Sephardic cantor in Montreal.

That the pop star and the liturgical giant were the same person has inspired a new exhibition that opened in Montreal February 25.

“Sacre Profane: Samy Elmaghribi” explores the “seemingly opposite” notions of sacred and secular in Elmaghribi’s career; the show also delves into the rich cultural and spiritual life of Moroccan Jewish Montreal.

Posters and ephemera from Algeria, Morocco, France, Israel and Montreal “express Salomon Amzallag’s migration back and forth between these places,” said Stephanie Schwartz, curator of the exhibition and research director of the roving Museum of Jewish Montreal, which organized the show. The singer “was never happy getting cornered into one thing,” Schwartz said. “He was moved by the arts. And he was an observant Jew. But he was still able to tour as a popular singer.”

Yolande Amzallag, Elmaghribi’s daughter, agreed. “It was never a dichotomy in his eyes,” she told the Forward by phone from downtown Montreal, where she works as a translator. “In his life and practice, he didn’t see or live a contradiction. He blended both aspects very harmoniously. The only thing he didn’t reinterpret is some of his earlier songs — they’re more explicit, more erotic.”

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The Sway Machinery's Expanding Cantorial Epic

By Hillel Broder

The Sway Machinery promises that its 3rd LP, “Purity and Danger,” is its “most chiseled enunciation of its foundational concept” yet — and it delivers on this promise. In a return to Afro-pop infused cantorial traditionals and modern blues myth-making, The Sway Machinery comfortably resettles into its epic vision, though this time with even more variance in vocals, guitar styles, and layered and progressive sound structures.

It’s been nearly five years since Sway’s second album release, “The House of Friendly Ghosts,” an ambitious collaboration with Khaira Arby, of Malian fame. With Arby, Sway sought out the consonance and even fusion possible between traditional cantorial music and Malian beats and chanting. Yet, while this global endeavor across nations and religions underscored a shared contemplative vision via the common language of Delta blues, this second album still felt like a departure from Sway’s original vision, even as it excavated its own historical roots.

With “Purity and Danger,” Sway turns from referencing its African influence to self-referencing the cantorial roots established on its 2008 debut album, “Hidden Melodies Revealed.” Once again, animated and deconstructed renditions of traditional hazanut are backed by a complex synthesis of percussion, brass and twang. A tapestry of Western forms inter-play, making it all new again, though this time in a consistently upbeat key — one that sometimes references popular blues and contemporary rock.

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The Dean of Women Drummers

By Philip Eil

Photo: Gesi Schilling

“What I’ve done with the magazine — through social media, through web and through print — is hype us to an extreme, to make up for lost time.”

That’s Mindy Abovitz in a mini-documentary on “The Oral History of Female Drummers,” a 2013 performance at MoMA PS1, in Queens, during which seven female drummers, including Abovitz, wailed away on drum kits stationed throughout the museum.

The magazine she’s referring to is Tom Tom, the self-described “only magazine in the world dedicated to female drummers,” which she founded and edits. The “us” are women like longtime Lenny Kravitz drummer Cindy Blackman, Berklee-trained percussionist Christina Bouza, Hole/Mötley Crüe alum Samantha Maloney, and hundreds of others featured over the course of 20 issues. The “lost time”? Well, that’s basically the entire history of media and music prior to Tom Tom’s November 2009 debut issue.

At lot has happened since then. Circulation has leapt from around 5,000 to 60,000 copies of the current fifth anniversary issue, which you’ll find on shelves at Guitar Center and Barnes & Noble. Tom Tom has launched a mini-drum school, Tom Tom Academy; held a 19-drummer jam session in the lobby of Manhattan’s Ace Hotel; and established an online shop which Abovitz says will ultimately be filled with “instruments you can’t find anywhere else, all made by people who believe in female drummers.” And, perhaps most significantly, people have stopped asking Abovitz a question that dogged her during the magazine’s early days: “Will you ever run out of content?” (For the record the answer was, and remains, a firm, “No.”)

The Forward recently caught up with Abovitz, via Skype, in England, where she was working to expand the magazine’s circulation and lay groundwork for a University of Cambridge symposium about gender and drums.

Philip Eil: In 2009, everyone was talking about the death of print. Why did you say, “I’m going to start a magazine?”

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9 Jews Who Changed The Sound of Jazz

By Curt Schleier

Willie Smith at his Manhattan apartment. Photo by William P. Gottlieb.

Barney Josephson opened Cafe Society in 1938, but the music he featured (and is featured in the play “Cafe Society Swing”) has been around much longer.

Jazz originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in African-American communities — most notably in New Orleans. As it spread, the music began to draw on different traditions, including the work of Jewish composers who populated Tin Pan Alley.

Because it took in so much from so many places and changed so much from its origins, Jazz might easily be called the Yiddish of musical forms. It includes everything from ragtime to be-bop to big band, and in most of these incarnations the Jewish impact was large. Here are 9 Jewish artists who helped shape the many different sounds of jazz:

1. Willie “The Lion” Smith (1893-1973)

An early jazz great, pianist Smith was the son of a Jewish father, Frank Bertholoff. He apparently learned Hebrew from a rabbi for whom his mother worked, and according to all accounts was a bar mitzvah at age 13. In fact, he told Nat Hentoff, “People can’t seem to realize I have a Jewish soul and belong to that faith.” According to his autobiography, later in life he served as a cantor for a black Jewish congregation in Harlem.

2. Teddy Charles (1928-2012)

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Ringo Starr, Lou Reed To Enter Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

By Reuters

Getty Images

Former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, the late rocker Lou Reed, punk group Green Day and singer Bill Withers are among the 2015 inductees named on Tuesday to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, rockers Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, rhythm and blues band the “5” Royales and the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Cleveland on April 18.

Starr was selected in the music excellence category. He was inducted as part of The Beatles in 1988. His bandmates have since entered the Hall of Fame as solo artists - John Lennon in 1994, Paul McCartney in 1999 andGeorge Harrison in 2004.

Reed, whose work with The Velvet Underground made them one of the most influential groups in rock, Green Dayand “Ain’t No Sunshine” singer Withers were selected in the performer category, along with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, whose biggest hit “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” became a rock classic, were cited for their fresh sound and The “5” Royales were credited for creating some of rock’s first standards while performing from 1945 to 1965.

More than 700 artists, music industry professionals and historians help to decide who is inducted. The public also cast their votes in a “fans ballot.”

Artists are eligible 25 years after the release of their first record for induction into the Hall of Fame, which was established in 1983.

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The Best Jewish Music of 2014

By Jake Marmer

Photo: Anna London

1. Zion80, Adramelech: Book of Angels 22 (Tzadik, $13.99)

Jon Madof’s 12-piece super-group Zion80, whose debut release last year was hailed enthusiastically in the Forward, The New York Times and elsewhere, has now released its second album, “Adramelech.” It’s a departure from the original concept of bringing together Shlomo Carlebach and Fela Kuti; on this album, the band plays a set of compositions from John Zorn’s “Masada” songbook.

Indeed, the music on this record is in line with the rest of Zorn’s work, but set to irresistible Afrobeat arrangements. More complex, dark, and phantasmagoric than their first album, it is fraught with melodies reminiscent of the Middle East and North Africa. But what really makes this album so memorable is the interplay of the horn section as they roll through the melodies.

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'Requiem for the 20th Century' at Carnegie Hall

By Raphael Mostel

Any music-lover in the New York area should run, not walk, to Carnegie Hall on December 10. Why? Only the New York premiere of one of the most influential and iconic compositions of the late 20th century: “Requiem” by holocaust survivor György Ligeti, scored for soprano, mezzo-soprano, double chorus and large orchestra.

Ligeti was unquestionably one of the greatest composers of the past century, the best known Hungarian composer since Bartók, and this is one of his most famous major works. The music is, simply put, astonishing.

Ligeti’s “Requiem” became known world-wide when excerpts were used (without the composer’s approval) as part of the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick’s classic futuristic film “2001: A Space Odyssey.” One of the most moving performances of last season was the playing of those excerpts by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic as they accompanied the showing of the Kubrick film live. But they left the honor of the much-belated New York premiere of the complete 1965 composition to the American Symphony Orchestra and the Bard Festival Chorale, directed respectively by Leon Botstein and James Bagwell.

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Hasidic Musician Lazer Lloyd Sings Black Hat Blues

By Anthony Weiss

Photo: Yocheved Seidman

(JTA) — If it hadn’t been for Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Lazer Lloyd thinks he would’ve been famous by now. On the other hand, he figures that by now, he’d probably also be dead.

Back in 1994, Lloyd was a rising young blues musician with a deal at Atlantic Records when he met the famed songwriter and spiritualist, who invited him to join a musical tour in Israel.

“I was a really crazy blues rock’n’roller,” he recalls. “I had a lot of light, but my personality was like fire. I would go into a bar to play a show, and I could light the whole place up, but it would never end.”

Instead, his tour with Carlebach set him on a journey that led him to embrace Hasidism and move to Israel. It also brought him to the green room of The Mint, a small music club in Los Angeles where he is about to close out a West Coast tour that ran from November 15 to November 24. A well-established blues guitarist in Israel, Lloyd, 48, has been actively touring in Europe and the United States for the past year and a half, trying to build an audience. He mixes gigs at synagogues and Jewish community centers with shows at mainstream music clubs, like the Mint.

Lounging in jeans, a purple shirt and a black felt hat, sporting glasses and a bushy brown beard edged with gray, Lloyd (born Lloyd Paul Blumen) makes the merger of Hasidism and the blues sound perfectly natural. For him, it all came down to the flat five.

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Yiddish Pop Star Claire Barry Dies at 94

By Michael Kaminer

Claire Barry, with her sister, Merna, on the cover of their 1961 album ‘Side by Side.’

Claire Barry, who crossed over from the world of Yiddish entertainment to global pop stardom as half of The Barry Sisters, died Monday in Aventura, Florida. She was 94.

At the height of their popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s, Claire and her sister Merna conquered television as regulars on the Ed Sullivan and Jack Paar shows.

Claire Barry’s last performance for an audience was in 2009. “I was there,” Corey Breier, a close friend of Barry’s and the longtime president of the Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors Club, told the Forward from his home in Aventura. “She was being honored by the Footlighters’ Club, which is Florida’s version of Friar’s club. She sang ‘My Yiddishe Mama.’ There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was the last time she sang publicly.”

Born in the Bronx to Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Kiev, Clara and Minnie Bagelman first performed as the Bagelman Sisters on a New York children’s Yiddish radio program in the 1930s.

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Why David Broza Still Has Hope for Peace

By Curt Schleier

Courtesy David Broza

David Broza is likely Israel’s most famous singer-songwriter. With a throaty Leonard Cohen sound and earthy Bruce Springsteen lyrics, Broza has recorded platinum albums and toured the world to great acclaim.

He is also among the nation’s most recognized peace advocates, a fact that fueled his most recent activities — an album, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” (S-Curve Records), and an accompanying documentary of the same name.

The film recently aired at the Other Israel Film Festival in New York, and at the ABC Foundation Conference in Miami. It is essentially a making-of-the-album film, but also focuses on Broza’s efforts to use music to bridge the gap between Israelis and Arabs.

The concept was simple. Broza rented time at the Sabreen studio in East Jerusalem, a center of the Palestinian music scene. He gave himself eight days and eight nights to record 13 tracks heavy on a peace motif. On each he is complemented by a number of Israeli and Palestinian musicians and singers, including Mira Awad. To add a bit of American flavor he brought in Steve Greenberg and Steve Earle to produce.

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Top 4 Christian Works By Jewish Composers

By Michael Kaminer

Everyone knows that the most popular American Christmas songs were written by Jews. But like Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” (see my piece on the recent Queens performance here) there’s a long tradition of Jewish musicians involved in Christian-inspired music — and even a few non-Jewish composers who’ve written for the Hebrews. Here are four of the most interesting:

1. Felix Mendelssohn wrote Christian music like Symphony No. 5 “Reformation,” St. Paul Oratorio along with other chamber and vocal pieces.

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Bernstein's 'MASS' Gets Rare Performance at Queens College

By Michael Kaminer

Getty Images

In 1971, the first time Maurice Peress conducted Leonard Bernstein’s “MASS,” the monumental piece echoed the life and death of John F. Kennedy, the social upheaval of the 1960s, and the morass of Vietnam.

Spectators today might see “MASS” in a very different light — as a tragic commentary on U.S. involvement in the Middle East, according to Peress. “The geography’s different, but it’s the same issues, the same arguments of what destructive power can do,” he told the Forward.

For the first time in nearly two decades, audiences will get the chance to make those connections themselves. Bernstein’s monumental “musical pageant” will get a rare full staging at Queens College’s Kupferberg Center for the Arts on November 1 and 2.

More than 200 performers, a rock band, marching band, and full pit orchestra will convene for the performance, which Bernstein loosely based on rituals of the Roman Catholic Mass. Folk, blues, rock, gospel, jazz, and even a marching band make appearances, along with Mahlerian meditations for orchestra, Hebrew prayer, chamber music, Arabic dances, and — why not — a Chilean folk ballad.

What’s different now from the historic 1971 premiere of “MASS,” which Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had commissioned for the inauguration of Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center?

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Jay Black's 7 Favorite Songs

By Curt Schleier

Jay Black has been singing professionally for 51 of his almost 76 years. That “almost” comes out November 2. He’ll be celebrating that birthday with a pair of concerts, one at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, N.J., and the other at NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Long Island. We chatted with him about the stories behind a few of his favorite songs:

1. Where Is the Village?

Mention Jay’s Yiddish song and he immediately launches into the lyrics of “Where is the Village” (“Vu iz dos Geseleh?”). “’After the war, I returned to my village. My mother, mu father, my sister, my brother, my sweetheart, were all gone.’ It’s one of my favorites, because after I do it, the audience stands for five minutes.”

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Brothers in Minimalism Came Together at BAM

By A.J. Goldmann

Photo: Alex Rivas/Twitter

Hiney ma tov u’ma-na’im shevet achim gam yachad.” “How good and how pleasant it is when brothers sit together.” That campfire classic came to mind as I sat in the Gilman Opera House at the Brooklyn Academy of Music earlier this month for the second of three concerts featuring Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

The two pioneering composers were appearing onstage together for the first time in nearly 40 years as part of “Nonesuch Records at BAM,” a series marking the 50th anniversary of the influential label, which ran from September 9 to 28. Nonesuch, whose founding mandate was to produce “fine records at the same price as a trade paperback,” has nurtured and promoted an extraordinarily wide and genre-crossing range of composers and musicians, from George Crumb to the Gipsy Kings, John Zorn to Wilco.

Both Reich and Glass studied composition at Juilliard and honed their musical styles in the downtown New York arts scene of the 1960s. In that symbiotic atmosphere their music, often performed in lofts and clubs, developed along similar paths. The result was what is now known as “minimalism,” a term coined by the composer — and fellow minimalist — Michael Nyman, although neither composer embraces the designation.

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12 Underappreciated Leonard Cohen Songs

By Ezra Glinter

Leonard Cohen is not a very prolific artist. In a 47-year music career he has made just 13 studio albums, along with a passel of live releases. (Compare that with Bob Dylan’s 35, or Neil Young’s 39 solo records.) But despite the relatively small size of Cohen’s catalog, it still has a lot of underappreciated gems. Here are 12 songs that seem to me to be unjustly overlooked, in honor of Cohen’s 80th year. Happy birthday, Leonard!

1. “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy,” 1969

I’ve always preferred Cohen’s first album, “Songs of Leonard Cohen,” to his second, “Songs From a Room,” partly because I’ve never been a huge fan of “Bird on a Wire,” the most famous track from the second album. But the 1969 release does have this sad and beautiful tune, one of several Cohen songs to address the subject of suicide. In this performance, from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, he explains some of the background as well.

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How Isabel Rose Went From Acting to Writing to Music

By Curt Schleier

The first song on Isabel Rose’s new CD is “Lot of Livin’ To Do,” an especially appropriate choice. She has already packed a lot of living into her, uh, years on planet Earth.

“I don’t want to distract people,” Rose said about her age. In a phone interview with the Forward, she added, “I prefer they not focus on whether I look good for my age. That is too much of a preoccupation, too much of a distraction from a person’s work.”

As it happens, Rose has an extremely lengthy and varied body of work for a person of any age. She acted at the Williamstown Theater Festival, landing a main stage production just weeks out of school; she’s written a best-selling novel (“The J.A.P. Chronicles”) that she subsequently turned into an off-Broadway one-woman musical; she wrote the screenplay and starred in an independent film (“Anything But Love”); and, now, her new album of standards, “Trouble in Paradise,” which drops September 16.

Rose spoke to the Forward about her family — she’s the scion of the wealthy, influential and charitable New York real estate clan — about Friday night Jewish song fests, and what she wants to do when she grows up.

Curt Schleier: I read somewhere that your family prefers a low profile and wasn’t thrilled with your career choice.

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Yiddish Supergroup Pays Homage to Nathan 'Prince' Nazaroff

By Jon Kalish

Photo: Fumie Suzuki

So, there in a gazebo on the boardwalk in Coney Island are The Brothers Nazaroff, taking refuge from the steamy afternoon sun. It is 92 degrees and horribly humid outside as the five Nazaroffs start playing and singing. A Hungarian documentary crew is shooting with two cameras as the brothers sing “Lucky Jew,” so I have to be on my toes to stay out of the camera shots. My t-shirt is drenched with sweat but I realize that as awful as it is being outside in the heat and humidity, watching these spirited Yiddish musicians play their raucous repertoire does indeed make me a lucky Jew.

Billed as a “Yiddish supergroup,” The Brothers Nazaroff is a tribute band to an obscure Russian immigrant in New York known as Nathan “Prince” Nazaroff. The man is known mostly by hardcore Yiddish music lovers. He is called an outsider, though he did record an album for Moe Asch’s Folkways label in 1954 and Nazaroff promoted himself as an established entertainer. None of The Brothers Nazaroff are actually brothers or Nazaroffs. Danik Nazaroff, Pasha Nazaroff, Meyshke Nazaroff, Zaelic Nazaroff and Yankl Nazaroff are in fact Daniel Kahn of Painted Bird fame, genuine Russian Psoy Korolenko, Michael Alpert of Brave Old World, Bob Cohen of the Budapest-based Di Naye Kapelye and Jake Shulman-Ment, widely regard as one of the best working klezmer fiddlers on the planet.

Thanks to Cohen’s connections in the Hungarian arts scene, a well-funded documentary on the Nazaroff project was begun. Various Nazaroffs were flown to New York for the film, which will also shoot in Paris and Berlin, where 35 year-old Daniel Kahn is based.

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Leonard Bernstein Sculpture Unveiled at Tanglewood


(JTA) — A bronze sculpture of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), one of the last century’s towering musical figures, was unveiled last week at Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO).

Boston Symphony Orchestra/Twitter

The sculpture, by artist Penelope Jencks, is the second in a series planned depicting Tanglewood’s most iconic music figures, according to a statement issued by by the BSO. The first sculpture, also by Jencks, is of Aaron Copland, Bernstein’s teacher and mentor, who in 1940 recommended the young Bernstein for Serge Koussevitzky’s conducting class at Tanglewood.

Over the next 50 years, Bernstein, who went on to lead the New York Philharmonic, and later conducted around the world, frequently in Israel, became a highly-anticipated presence at the renowned music center, known for its pastoral scenery. “Tanglewood has always been, and will continue to be, the spiritual home of Leonard Bernstein,” said composer and Academy Award winner John Williams, whose donation to the BSO is funding the sculpture series. A courtyard at the music center is named after Bernstein.

The themes of many of Bernstein’s scores, including his Kaddish Symphony and Chichester Psalms, reflected his Jewish roots. The son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrant parents, Bernstein wrote of the early musical influence of Solomon Braslavsky, the European-born and trained vocal director and organist at Boston’s Congregation Mishkan Tefila, the family’s synagogue.

Bernstein, who taught at Brandeis University from 1951 through 1956, launched the school’s Festival of Creative Arts in 1951 and served on the university’s Board of Trustees from 1976 to 81. He performed frequently in Israel, notably during the country’s founding years and during the 1967 Six-Day War. At age 70, Bernstein was named conductor laureate of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Bernstein was also a prolific composer for Broadway, with the musical “West Side Story” his most famous Broadway show.

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Holocaust Victim, Artist Charlotte Salomon's Life Premieres as Opera

By Michael Roddy

Photo: Salzburger Festspiele / Ruth Walz

(Reuters) — The Berlin-born Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon left behind a body of watercolors and text she called “Life? or Theater?” before she was killed at Auschwitz in 1943 at age 26, carrying her unborn child.

Salomon’s life, which has inspired films, plays and a musical, was turned into an opera that plumbed the depths of human emotion in its premiere on Monday at the Salzburg Festival in Austria.

With music by French composer Marc-Andre Dalbavie, staging by Swiss director Luc Bondy and libretto by German-Jewish author Barbara Honigmann, who used 85 percent of Salomon’s own text, the work was the season’s most anticipated opera at the prestigious festival in the city of Mozart’s birth.

It did not disappoint.

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