Newswire | Ashkenaz Festival to Premiere First Yiddish Opera Ever Presented in Canada

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Toronto, Ontario (July 27, 2022) – Ashkenaz 2022 proudly presents the North American premiere of Henekh Kon’s “Bas-Sheve,” based on the controversial biblical story of David and Bathsheba. The only known pre-Holocaust Yiddish opera, and never performed after its 1924 premiere in Warsaw, the work was forgotten for decades before the only known existing manuscript was unearthed by German musicologist Dr. Diana Matut in 2017. After Matut discovered 16 pages missing from the original score, she enlisted Toronto-based Yiddishist (and New York Times best-selling author) Michael Wex to complete the libretto. Renowned klezmer musician, composer and ethnomusicologist Joshua Horowitz was recruited to orchestrate the entire piece and fill in the missing musical portions.

The Ashkenaz Festival will feature a brand-new concert version of “Bas-Sheve,” produced as part of a tri-national partnership with Germany’s Yiddish Summer Weimar, and the Milken Centre for Music of American Jewish Experience at UCLA in Los Angeles. The production will be Directed/conducted by Neal Stulberg and features the UCLA Philharmonia, with soloists from Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music including Jaclyn Grossman in the lead role of Bathsheba, along with Jonah Spungin, Marcel d’Entremont and Geoffrey Schellenberg. Presented as an oratorio-style concert, the performances will be enhanced with multi-media projections and supertitle translations.

Produced only once before in its newly-restored form (in Germany in 2019), “Bas Sheve” will be the first Yiddish language opera ever presented in Canada. With a cast of performers and curators spanning three countries, and featuring 40 performers on stage, it will be one of the most ambitious and ground-breaking events ever produced by the Ashkenaz Festival since its founding in 1995.

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Ashkenaz Festival Artistic Director Eric Stein remarks: “Aside from its obvious musical significance, this opera, written 100 years ago about events during biblical times, involves timely and disturbing themes about rape, murder and abuse of power, highlighting an eerie continuity between ancient times and the present.”

“Presenting “Bas Sheve,” the first Yiddish language opera concert in Canada, feels deeply resonant to me as a Jewish-Canadian singer,” says soloist Jaclyn Grossman. “As a dramatic soprano, much of the Germanic repertoire I perform employs themes of anti-Semitism. While we work to expand the operatic canon, I am eager to include Yiddish art. It is an incredible honour to take part in this unique piece of Jewish culture and history.”

2022 also marks the first in-person Ashkenaz Festival since the beginning of the pandemic which will include 50 other events at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre and other venues in the city.

Bas-Sheve will be premiering from August 31 – September 2
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