Monday, November 2, 2009

North American Premiere of Israeli Opera: Nov. 5, 7 and 8

I have the privilege to be a member of an exceptional cast in the North American premiere (and first new production) of a brilliant contemporary opera, Tschok Shel Achbarosh, offered by Opera York in conjunction with Holocaust Education Week. Performed in Hebrew with English surtitles, the dramatic story explores the multi-generational power of memory in a highly theatrical and musically inspiring production. It is an exquisitely wrought meditation on the past, present and future of Holocaust memory after the survivors are gone in a society which increasingly seeks to divert and sanitize its emotional experience.

The opera tells the tale of a young Jewish girl whose parents entrust her to a family of farmers living in a remote Polish village towards the end of the war. She is hidden in a dark potato cellar for over a year, with little food and only a rat for company. When the girl's parents no longer send money, the farmer's wife takes the girl to the village priest and urges him to kill her. Instead, he hides the girl in his church at great personal risk and ultimately rebels against a creator who abandoned his children. In 1999, the girl has become a grandmother, living in Tel Aviv. She, at first unwillingly and then inevitably, recounts her tale to her 12-year-old granddaughter, who is interviewing granny for a school project. In the year 2099, in a society dedicated to eradicating unpleasant emotions and experiences, two anthropologists are resolved to uncover the origins of the widespread myth known as the "Girl and the Rat". It is they who excavate this memory from its burial place, and in so doing recover their own humanity.

And the Rat Laughed goes beyond the typical testimony of eye-witness experience to the core that remains, composed of deep-rooted emotions hidden in dark cellars of our minds, and explores the concepts of how we view memories, what history will look like in the future and how we are shaping it all the time. The production features Israeli soprano Einat Aronstein who originated the lead role in Israel, with a cast of Canadian performers including Melanie Gall, Andrew Tees, Dion Mazerolle, Adriana Albu, Angela Burns, Ramona Carmelly and Gerrit Theule. The opera by Ella Milch-Sheriff and Nava Semel, is based on the bestselling novel by Nava Semel. The opera has been performed in Israel, Poland, Romania and South Africa.

Though modern, the music is entirely accessible, in turns evocatively disharmonic and richly lyrical. The text is poetically layered and stirring. Together, they braid the complexly interwoven plots, times and themes into a cohesive whole. The musicality and emotional conviction of the cast under supremely sensitive musical and stage direction brings to fruition one of the most compelling pieces of music-theatre I have ever encountered either as a performer or as audience.

If you are in the GTA hope you will take the opportunity to join us for this extraordinary event.

Opera York in partnership with the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto present the North American premiere of the Israeli Opera, And the Rat Laughed. The critically acclaimed opera tells the story of a child in hiding during the Holocaust. And the Rat Laughed runs during Holocaust Education Week
Thursday Nov. 5 and Saturday Nov. 7 at 8 p.m.,
Sunday Nov. 8 at 2 p.m. and Tuesday Nov. 10 at 1 p.m.
at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts (10268 Yonge Street)
Tickets $35-40-45. Student groups ticket price: $10
Box office: (905) 787 8811, or online at

Opera York, led by Artistic Director Geoffrey Butler, and featuring the Opera York Orchestra and Chorus, is in its 13th season. And The Rat Laughed is being performed in the company's new home the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts. The company runs a subscription series of two operas a season, serving York's diverse population. For more information about Opera York, go to

Holocaust Education Week is the largest Holocaust education event in the world. Running Nov. 1 to 11, it features more than 160 educational and cultural programs devoted to Holocaust remembrance and education. For more information, go to

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