By Steffi Feldman
This semester, Professor Thomas Lloyd, director of the Chorale and Vocal Studies Program for Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, is taking on the challenge of adapting an acclaimed opera-oratorio for his Chorale. This opportunity is an exciting one for the department because the piece in question, The Eternal Road, is a powerful, critically-acclaimed production.
The piece was written by Kurt Weill and Franz Werfel and translated into English from the original German by Ludwig Lewisohn. It is a compilation of Jewish history over the years, recording the epic tales of a scattered people. The music is compiled out of varying styles interwoven masterfully to achieve the so-called “biblical pageant.”
The set-up of the play is in a certain unnamed place in time where a group of Jews are seeking refuge in a synagogue, hiding from a possible order of banishment from their king. As they gather around their rabbi, asking for advice on how they should proceed—whether to resist, submit, or flee—the rabbi begins to tell the stories from the Jewish biblical history which is then acted out by the congregants. Lloyd has also invited nearby synagogues to join in on the production, feeling that they were entitled to take part in something celebrating their heritage.
Matt Mazewski, HC ’13 has been member of Chorale since he was a freshman. He says that Eternal Road is both challenging and exciting. “The thing that’s totally new about this is the acting component. It’s a sort of play.” He went on to explain that, “It has a different feel from anything Chorale has done since I’ve been here.” Bryn Mawr sophomore Lydia Ibarra, agrees. “It’s nice to have something different from the usual classic repetoire.”
While The Eternal Road ran for 153 performances since its debut at the Manhattan Opera House in 1937, it was not revived until 63 years later during the 1999-2000 opera season in honor of Weill’s 100th birthday. The reason for this hiatus was the play’s alarming six hour run-time, even after considerable edits and cuts were made. Lloyd’s goal is to cut it down to about two hours and ten minutes with intermissions. Students don’t seem to mind the length however, “I think it’s really cool to get a chance to be a part of a piece that’s so rarely performed and share it with the community,” said Fatema Esaa, BMC ’13.
The piece is all the more powerful when one takes into consideration that it was written in the 1930s, right before the Holocaust and subsequent formation of Israel. The Eternal Road was created to be a warning to American audiences about the anti-Semitism in Germany at the time and what it could mean for Jewish people. As a result, the play is haunting in its sense of impending doom.
“I think that it’s interestng to hear a piece from the perspective of a German Jew [composer Kurt Weill.]” said Kaitlyn Holm, BMC ’14. “There’s this whole history that you don’t usually get to see. You learn about the aftermath but the cultural context in which that history played out isn’t as well known.”
“The ending is so difficult for most audiences to deal with and yet is so powerful because of where it falls in history.” Lloyd said.
This is not to say that The Eternal Road is a melancholy work. Chorale member and Bryn Mawr junior, Amelia Eichengreen, says that it has a wide emotional range. “At first I was a little bit skeptical that it might be a depressing piece,” she said. “However, after hearing the music, I found it to be both inspirational and moving. It’s a piece that should really be preserved.”
“I think it speaks to the human condition of being in a world where violence of human beings against other human beings is an ever-present threat,” Lloyd said. “It’s about how people as a community try to find answers as to maintain your integrity without either destroying yourself or submitting to oppression.”