Halevy from Hannover
Elizabeth Alker introduces a performance of Fromental Halevy's 19th-century grand opera, La Juive, from Hannover Opera.
Elizabeth Alker introduces a performance of Fromental Halevy's 19th-century grand opera, La Juive - "The Jewess" - from Hannover Opera. In its day, La Juive was considered one of the great musical works of its time and might even have inspired moments in Richard Wagner's work. It was largely forgotten for much of the 20th century but has enjoyed a widespread revival in the last 20 years. It tells the story of the love of a Christian man for a Jewish women and can be regarded as an advocacy for religious tolerance.
Fromental Halevy: La Juive
A grand opera in Five Acts.
Rachel, the supposed daughter of Eléazar - Hailey Clark, soprano,
Eléazar, a Jewish goldsmith - Zoran Todorovich, tenor
Léopold, Imperial Prince - Matthew Newlin, tenor
Princess Eudoxie, niece of the emperor - Mercedes Arcurí, soprano,
Gian Francesco, Cardinal de Brogni, President of the Council - Shavleg Armasi, bass,
Ruggiero, city provost - Pavel Chervinsky, baritone,
Albert, a sergeant in the emperor's archers - Hubert Zapiór, bass,
Hanover State Opera Chorus
Hanover State Opera Auxiliary Chorus
Hanover State Orchestra
Constantin Trinks, conductor
The opera was originally set in 1414, but in this production the work has been edited and the setting is at different times as set out in the note at the beginning of each Act below. The theme of the production is the persecution of Jews throughout history.
USA, 1950s – The beginning of our Age. TV and Radio preach the world view but xenophobia and intolerance are barely hidden beneath the surface. Foreigners are kept at arm’s length
Constance, 1414. The Emperor Sigismund has called a religious council, following his victory over the religious reformer Jan Hus. To celebrate that victory, the townsfolk sing a Te Deum, but they are shocked to find someone working on this holy day. It is the Jew Eléazar, a goldsmith and refugee, who defies the Christian laws that once sent his sons to the stake. Ruggiero, the town's provost marshal, is about to arrest him when Cardinal de Brogni, the president of the Council of Constance (Konstanz), stops him. Brogni recognizes Eléazar from the days when both men lived in Rome: Brogni was then a city magistrate, married and father to a girl. Around the time that he enforced the law that sent Eléazar into exile, Brogni lost his wife and daughter in a fire. Now Brogni counsels forgiveness, telling Ruggiero that their example may inspire the Jews to turn to the Christian god. He even asks Eléazar's pardon, which Eléazar vows never to give. Eléazar has a daughter, the beautiful Rachel, beloved of a painter named Samuel who is in reality Prince Léopold, the emperor's son and the general who defeated the Hussites. Léopold implores Albert, a sergeant in the imperial guard, not to reveal his true identity, and when the crowd of townsfolk moves on, he serenades Rachel. She invites him to join her and her father for a Passover Seder the next evening. As the townsfolk return to await the imperial procession, Eléazar and Rachel, caught up in the crowd, seek refuge on the steps of the church. Ruggiero denounces them, and the townsfolk threaten to throw the Jews into Lake Constance. Just then, "Samuel" arrives and, to the astonishment of Rachel and her father, persuades the townsfolk to spare them.
Germany, 1929 – The mood changes as the relative freedom of the Weimar Republic starts to transition to the Blood and Soil ideology of the National Socialists. Antisemitism is starting to show. When there’s a knock on the door late in the evening it is not often something good
Inside Eléazar's home "Samuel" has joined others in celebrating Passover. Eléazar calls on God to punish any traitors among them; when he passes the unleavened bread, "Samuel," observed by Rachel, lets his piece fall to the floor. A knock at the door frightens the Jews, who hurriedly conceal every trace of the Seder before slipping out the back. At Eléazar's command, "Samuel" remains. The visitor is a Christian, the Princess Eudoxie, who has come to purchase from Eléazar a magnificent chain that she wants to give to her husband-Léopold, whom she does not recognize. Concealing himself from her, Léopold expresses his remorse at betraying her. Agreeing to bring her the chain the next evening, Eléazar sees Eudoxie to the door, and in his absence, Rachel asks Léopold to explain how he was able to save them from the mob. He promises to return to speak to her privately.
Rachel apprehensively awaits her beloved. Léopold appears and admits that he is a Christian. She reminds him that his people's law prescribes death for any Jewish woman who loves a Christian. He did not mean to put her at risk, he says, but his love for her was so great that he could think of nothing else. She is on the point of eloping with him, when Eléazar catches them. Seeing his hospitality betrayed and his daughter compromised, Eléazar is furious but willing to forgive a fellow Jew; his wrath is unbounded when Léopold admits his faith. Rachel intervenes, insisting that she is as much to blame as her lover. Moved by her pleas, Eléazar consents to her marriage, but Léopold refuses to marry a Jew. Eléazar calls on God to curse Léopold.
Stuttgart, 1738 - The court of Duke Karl Alexander. The Nobility uses anti-Jewish prejudices to try to get rid of the Duke
In her palace, Eudoxie rejoices at her husband's safe return from his campaign against the Hussites. Rachel, who has followed Léopold to the palace but does not know his true identity, hopes to learn more; Eudoxie agrees to engage her as a servant. They are interrupted by Léopold, now in his princely garb; he is startled to see Rachel, though she does not recognize him. Eudoxie welcomes him home and urges him to forget his cares. A celebration is announced. As the princess had commanded, Eléazar arrives with the chain. Suddenly, Rachel recognizes "Samuel," and when Eudoxie presents the chain to her husband, Rachel steps forward and declares Léopold unworthy to receive such a precious gift. He has had relations with a Jewish girl, a crime for which they both must die. Privately asking God to strike him too, Eléazar demands that Brogni take action. Since Léopold won't defend himself, Brogni supposes the allegation to be true, and he condemns the prince and the Jews who have broken the laws of man and God.
Iberian Penisula, 1492 – The Spanish Inquisition. Jews and Muslims are being forced to convert to Catholicism. A surveillance state ensues
Eudoxie summons the prisoner Rachel and begs her to spare the man they both love. Rachel replies that a Jew can be as magnanimous as a Christian. When a guard announces that Brogni is coming, Eudoxie withdraws, believing she has Rachel's promise. However, when Brogni asks Rachel how she will testify before the Council, she tells him only that she knows her duty before God. Brogni urges her to save her own life by renouncing her faith, but she refuses. Brogni turns to Eléazar, saying that he can save the girl's life if he will renounce Judaism; offended, Eléazar refuses, then reminds Brogni of the fire that killed his wife and child. The girl is alive, Eléazar tells him, in the care of a Jew. Brogni pleads with him to reveal her whereabouts, but Eléazar spurns him. Alone, Eléazar muses that ever since Rachel came into his life, he has devoted himself to her happiness-can he now condemn her to death? At first, he resolves to save her, but then he hears a mob outside calling for Jews to be burned. "You want our blood, Christians," he cries, "and yet I was going to hand Rachel over to you-no, no, never!" God, he says, has shown him the light.
Konstanz, Germany, 1414 – The great Church Council as folk festival
In a public square, the people of Constance have gathered to witness the execution of the heretics. Ruggiero tells Eléazar that the Council has condemned only two people to die; Léopold has been sent into exile. When Eléazar scoffs at the hypocrisy of Christian justice, Rachel admits that her testimony saved Léopold. She asks her father not to let the Christians see him weep for her. As the executioner steps forward, Eléazar tells Rachel she can save herself by accepting Christianity. Proudly, she refuses and is led away. Brogni asks Eléazar once again what became of his daughter; as the mob roars and Rachel is thrown into the cauldron, Eléazar points to the cauldron and shouts, "There she is!"