About a year ago, in my last blog post, I mentioned that having to take time off from performing due to my arm operation, I was doing much more composition. I also mentioned that ideas for a jazz opera were percolating. Well, that project has come to fruition and New York City Opera will present a reading of “Dear Erich” in June. If all goes well they will produce it in an upcoming season! Here is a bit about the story:
Dear Erich is inspired by more than 200 newly discovered letters written in Germany between 1938 and 1941 by Herta Rosenthal (my grandmother) to her son Erich (my father), a Jewish academic, who escaped to the U.S. Inspired by the story of Erich Rosenthal’s rescue from Nazi Germany months before Kristallnacht, Dear Erich tells the story of a family’s dual fates – a son’s journey and new (jazzy) life in the new world and his family’s cruel demise by the Nazis where he was powerless to help. Dear Erich also reflects on the impact of the Holocaust on the children of survivors. The opera’s scenes of immigration and refugees in crisis cue up moral dilemmas that resound to this day.
A central theme of the opera is survivor guilt – can one be able to live and enjoy life fully while others close to you are in harm’s way and ultimately cannot be saved? How much can one do to help another in need? Erich’s unwillingness to share his family history, chiefly due to his survivor guilt, inability to save them and not knowing their final fate, leaves his children feeling cut off from the past and ungrounded in the present. As the drama unfolds, Erich shares more of himself and his past, and his children are motivated to help solve the mystery of Herta’s demise, and honor – and rescue – her memory.
For those who are curious, this story is historical fiction. Based on the facts, but dramatized to make a more compelling story.
I’ll write further soon about the “back story,” the music and the compositional process for this piece.