Today, a Yiddish opera, long thought lost, is set to be performed at the Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto. P.J. Grisar tells its story:
When it premiered on May 24, 1924, at Warsaw’s Kaminsky Theatre, its composer, Henech Kon, had to accompany the performers on piano—and sing the bass part himself. It wasn’t quite the presentation he had in mind. But Kon would go on to bigger things, composing music for the classic Yiddish film The Dybbuk. His opera Bas Sheve (Bathsheba), about King David’s sinful affair with the titular wife of his general, would be one of many lost compositions, if one that had a certain prestige.
No one could say much about how the opera sounded until 2017, when the researcher Diana Matut learned that the Yale University Library bought a handwritten score of Bas Sheve at auction. After over 90 years, the Yiddish world now had access to Kon’s melodies and the words of his librettist and regular collaborator, the influential playwright, poet, and director Moyshe Broderzon.
Well, almost. Matut, a lecturer in Jewish studies at the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, sent the manuscript to composer Joshua Horowitz to orchestrate it. . . . But Horowitz ran into an immediate problem—there were sixteen pages missing. And not just any pages, but the climax of the entire work.