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The Bride returns

90-year-old Yiddish operetta to be staged in New Brunswick

A poster for the original 1923 production of Di Goldene Kale on New York’s Lower East Side.
A poster for the original 1923 production of Di Goldene Kale on New York’s Lower East Side.

Ninety-two years after its premiere at Kessler’s Second Avenue Theatre in New York City, the Yiddish operetta Di Goldene Kale (The Golden Bride) returns to the stage in New Brunswick on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The comedy, written by Joseph Rumshinsky, will be performed in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles and with a full orchestra — for the first time in 70 years.

The production — presented by New York City’s National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene and Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts and cosponsored by Rutgers’ Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life — will be part of the 2015 Mason Gross Summer Series. 

A company of singers from Folksbiene, accompanied by the Mason Gross Muzikers orchestra, will perform the operetta, which, like many works composed during the heyday of American Yiddish theater of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, was aimed at immigrants from Eastern Europe. 

Di Goldene Kale tells the story of Golde, abandoned by her parents and raised by local innkeepers somewhere in the Russian empire. After the town hears that the young woman has inherited her father’s fortune, she draws the attention of many would-be suitors. Golde eventually finds her way to America, bringing various characters from her European shtetl with her, and sets about to find the man she will marry.

The storyline illustrates both the optimism and uncertainty that comes with starting a new life and “speaks to the whole immigrant experience, that yes, people love their new country, but they still have this yearning for the past,” said Michael Ochs, a scholar who came across a manuscript for the operetta 35 years ago while working as the head of the music library at Harvard.

On Aug. 5, Ochs will present a pre-performance lecture at 6 p.m. that will include examples of recordings from the time — some of which were made by the operetta’s original cast. The lecture is free for ticket-holders. 

Di Goldene Kale became a smash hit for Rumshinsky, a prolific composer who was born in 1881 in Lithuania and arrived in the United States in 1904. Ochs has counted more than 140 works that list Rumshinsky as a writer or collaborator.

“He was by far the most important composer of Yiddish operettas and Yiddish musicals,” said Ochs. “This particular work had been performed all over the world, including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Manchester, England; and Omaha, Nebraska.” 

“Rumshinsky’s talents as a tunesmith are most evident in Di Goldene Kale,” said Mason Gross School dean George B. Stauffer. “In his prime, he was known as the Yiddish Sigmund Romberg — a composer of majestic, sweeping, romantic melodies.

“We are proud to present the first performance in modern times of the fully orchestrated score.” 

The operetta might have been lost to history without the meticulous work done by Ochs, who transliterated the libretto and edited the piano-vocal score, doing the work of a “musical archaeologist,” said Motl Didner, associate artistic director and education director of the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene.

Didner said the restoration of Di Goldene Kale is important in cataloguing the history of Jewish immigration to America.

“There is a great satisfaction in seeing a work that is a living document of a time and place that informs who we are today, rescued from the worst fate that a creative work can suffer — to be forgotten,” Didner said.

And despite being nearly a century old, the story, Ochs said, is still relevant to today’s audiences. 

“People in the audience who themselves aren’t immigrants had parents or grandparents or even great-grandparents who came to this country because things were tough where they were coming from,” said Ochs. “They were hoping for a better life, and that’s still true.”

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