From page to stage: Chelsea Opera, with the assistance of The Interfaith Community present:
On Rosenstrasse ... an opera in progress
In late February of 1943, more than 1,700 Jewish men who were married to non-Jewish, Ayrian women were detained in the former Jewish Community Center building on Berlin’s Rosenstrasse. One by one, their wives and relatives stood in the cold across the street, trying to catch a glimpse of their loved ones. In a short time, their numbers multiplied until the casual gathering transformed into a full-fledged protest. The men detained inside the building said that listening to the women chant outside was like listening to the roar of the sea.
These women, armed only with their combined voices and courageous determination, challenged the Nazis’ power and successfully secured the release of every man held inside, including those who had already been transferred to and were ultimately returned from Auschwitz.
Max Kinberg and Terry Lawrence’s new chamber opera, On Rosenstrasse, tells this remarkable true story through the voices of eight women. The opera will be given its world premiere by Chelsea Opera in March 2013. But first, an unstaged work-in-progress reading on June 21, 2012 will enable the producers, composer and librettist to fine-tune the work.
All contributions, be they $15 or $1,500, will enable this amazing new opera to take the next step towards its world premiere production. Funds will be used to pay the singers, actors, music director/pianist, director, stage manager, and audio/video recording engineers and rent the rehearsal and performance spaces to present the reading. The first act will be sung by professional singers from Chelsea Opera's roster; the second act will be read by a talented group of NYC actors.
The reading features Ellen Andrews, Joan Barber, Suzanne Darrell, Abigail Fischer, Camille Gifford, Gayle Greene, Susan Holsonbake, Miriam Kushel, Kember Lattimer, Erika Person, Christine Reimer, Lisa Riegel, Cynthia Shaw, Abigail Treut and Terina Westmeyer, with Kelly Horsted, music director.
LIBRETTIST TERRY LAWRENCE COMMENTS:
"I first heard about the Rosenstrasse protest in a tiny capsule book review in the Detroit Free Press. It said 'a group of non-Jewish wives protested their husbands' arrest for a week in Berlin in 1943.' With no leaders and no manifesto, these Gentile women gathered just around the corner from Gestapo Headquarters to protest the arrests of their Jewish husbands. After a week during which they endured an air raid, warning shots and constant threats, they secured the release of 1,700+ men. The Nazis had already deported ninety-percent of Berlin's Jews to camps when these women literally stood up and refused to leave without their husbands. I had never ever heard of this.
"Apparently, due to the appearance of Women's Studies in history departments in the 1990s, people started really looking into what women did during the war. There's an oral history called 'Frauen' in which German women are interviewed about everyday life in Nazi Germany.
"The other main event that led to the protest's discovery was the fall of the Berlin Wall. All these historians could finally interview women in East Germany and look at Nazi records no one had seen since the war. Many of these women were still alive.
"When I first learned about this story, I felt these women's voices needed to be heard. The story is big, emotional and powerful – in other words, operatic."
COMPOSER MAX KINBERG COMMENTS:
"When I first read Terry Lawrence's play, Rosenstrasse, I was immediately taken with the story line. These brave German women stood up to the Nazi regime and fought for their Jewish husbands' lives: no small task given the unrivaled evil of the Nazi Regime. It is the universal theme of righteousness over evil that recurs throughout human history. Plus, many of the countless enactments in the arts and literature about the Holocaust have rarely, if ever, brought to light the defiance of those German people who stood up against their government and its crimes against humanity. This was a golden opportunity to 'musicalize' a core belief within me that evil will never win, and love trumps all adversity. In homage to these women, I wanted to bring to light these events which are indeed, based in historical fact. One last point is the choice of orchestration. My use of clarinet, violin, cello and piano is an homage to Oliver Messiaen’s Quartet For The End Of Time which used these same instruments, the only ones Messiaen could find when he wrote the piece in a concentration camp."
Chelsea Opera had its beginning in 2004 in New York City. This grass-roots opera company was started by two professionals in the opera world who are passionate about it. Run by volunteers, the mission of the company is to present fully staged operas with chamber orchestra and provide artists with a supportive environment in which to work on their craft while receiving a per performance honorarium.
For its audiences, Chelsea Opera is committed to providing productions of the highest quality in an intimate space where opera lovers can both hear the singers and become involved with each character’s emotional journey. For Chelsea Opera, glorious singing, combined with the telling of a great story, is everything!
The opera is being written even as you read these words. It truly is a work-in-progress, and will be given its world premiere in March 2013. However, before that happens, we need to see the work on its feet, to hear the words sung and spoken by a talented cast of singers and actors, and to evaluate the emotional heart of the story. In other words, the reading will give the work its first breath of life! You can be part of that exciting process by becoming a Producing Partner.
In November 2010, Chelsea Opera received national attention, thanks to its production of a 21st Century opera, Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo. Still interested in producing standard repertory (such as Madama Butterfly this June), the company gained confidence in its ability to produce new works, a challenging undertaking for even the most established company.
When selecting its repertoire, however, the producers are driven equally by the music as well as the story. When composer Max Kinberg first submitted his chamber opera for consideration, co-founders Leonarda Priore and Lynne Hayden-Findlay were captivated by the compelling story of these brave women. It was a story they had not heard before and they became determined to produce the opera!
PLEASE SUPPORT ON ROSENSTRASSE - a work in progress. Your support at any level will go a long way to making this wonderful project a reality.
Since the company's earliest days, the principals involved have each had a wish list...those operas we really, really, really want to produce for one reason or another. Then one day, the company received national attention, thanks to its production of a contemporary work (Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo). Suddenly, composers were submitting their works for our consideration, composer Max Kinberg among them. However, his submission sat on a credenza ... to be looked at one of those days ... for months. After several phone inquiries and word that Max was flying into NYC (where he's from) from LA (where he lives), we finally took a look at On Rosenstrasse.
As a small opera company that deals in the hard and fast realities of the business, one reality is that there are more roles for baritones than any other voice type, and yet, there are not enough actual baritones of quality to go around. (Hence, Chelsea Opera will never produce Rigoletto!) And so, our fantasy had always been a chamber opera, written for a small ensemble, with only female singers and NOT about nuns! Lo and behold! On Rosenstrasse is written for 8 women and an ensemble of 4 (piano, violin, clarinet and cello). So it was an answer to a prayer. THEN we read the story and were so touched by it that we had to say "yes, we'll produce it".
Chelsea Opera has been in business for eight seasons now and we have developed a fairly large contact list. Instead of the expense of auditioning singers and actors for this project, we were able to call on the singers we already knew, and took recommendations for the actors.
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