Chaim Ben Chaya
Background of the libretto
Between the years 1912-1914 an anthropological expedition financed by the Baron Ginzburg and conducted by the writer Sh. Anski Shlomo Zanvel Rapoport 1863-1920) was visiting 67 places where Jews were living in Ukraine. The goal of this expedition (that included also the composer Joel Engel and the painter Yudovin) was to collect, save and preserve the cultural values from the Jewish traditional live.
The secretary of Anski's expedition was the writer Avrom Rechtman that published in 1958 a book in Yiddish called "Yiddishe Etnografye un Folklor" IWO-farlag, Buenos Aires) with stories, descriptions and pictures from this collection.
A special chapter in this book is dedicated to Jewish cemeteries. The members of the expedition visited Jewish cemeteries, took photos from graves with special inscriptions, searched them and annotated the stories that behind that inscriptions.
The amazing story about Chaim ben Chaya that was born on his mother grave is based on a report included in A. Rechtman's book. The story relates to a square grave stone in the old cemetery in Ostrow, where the following inscription engraved with raised letters:
”Here lays Chaim Ben Chaya born on his mother’s grave”
There was a young couple who lived in Ostrow. His name was Shmuel and hers,
Chaya. She was a rich man’s daughter, and he, a successful wood merchant, who would ship lumber down stream to Germany. The young couple lived in peace, harmony and true love.
And yet, though several years had passed since their marriage, they had not succeeded in having a child. Until one night appears a "stranger" in the village. Chaya got pregnant; all the town is gossiping and the Rabi finally decide to excommunicate her from the community.
This tragic story with a totally unexpected end breaks some idyllic picture about the life on the "shtetl". From one side it shows the fatal results of malicious gossip, but from the other side it also shows the strong optimism and belief in the future that animated Jewish life.
Leyvik House, Tel-Aviv, 12/01/2007, Concert performance.
Supporting:Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Ministry of Science Culture & Sport
"Fantastic performance by a chamber ensemble of eight musicians, the composer beside the piano and the impressive singing by Natali Digora, soprano and Michael Gaysinski, bariton."
Y. Luden, Lebns Fragn, March-April 2007.
"The musical world gained an extraordinary opera. The Yiddish world should be proud of it."
Pesia Portnoi, Forwards, New York, February 2007.
Rudi Theater, Dresden, Germany, 20/10/2008, 21/10/2008, 1/11/2008, 2/11/2008, 26/11/2008, World Premiere - full stage version.
Director: Tal Shahar
Conductor: Friedemann Schulz
Sopran: Susann Reibeholz
Bariton: Matthias Kleinert
Chaya: Sandy Asser
Shmuel: Detlef Hutschenreuter
Dancers: Lilli Horvath, Victoria Wolff
Production: Rocktheater Dresden.
"Friendly simplicity…a positive surprise by which we accept the combination of story-telling, cultural background and musical message. The music is melodic, based on intellectual finesse."
Peter Zacher, Dresden Nachrichten, October 22, 2008.
"The chamber opera Chaim ben Chaya have been the climax of the 12th Festival of Music and Yiddish Theater at Dresden. Thanks to total devotion, idealism and team work which were preformed in a very short time and minimal budget.
Karsten Bluthgen, Sachsische Zeitung, October 22, 2008.