Page 135 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 40

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BURKO/GOLDFADEN AND THE YIDDISH THEATER
129
stage design of his productions. The entertainment he provided
knew no limits. For
The Recruits,
for example, Goldfaden hired a
unit of Rumanian soldiers to participate in a parade scene. In
other productions he displayed his love for
deus ex-machina
effects
and for bengal lights and created a fantastic world populated with
angels, witches, ridiculous Hasidim and dead who returned to life
on the stage.
Goldfaden began his theater career as merely a gifted adaptor.
In plays like
Shmendrik, The Recruits
and
The Mute Bride,
he mixed
plots of European plays and melodies of famous composers with
Jewish folktales and folksongs. He skillfully adapted the folk
melodies to the written text, and he himself composed original,
beautiful melodies despite his lack of any musical education.
Nevertheless, already in
The Witch,
written in Rumania in 1877,
Goldfaden was demonstrating the magic of his creative talents:
His poetic language, use of folk humor, and genuine sense of
theatricality. Presenting the story of Mirele, the orphan who was
lured by the Witch and sold to a Turkish harem, he created such
enchanting scenes as Mirele’s birthday celebration, a market place
with merchants singing about their merchandise, and the ex­
travagant entertainment at an Istanbul coffee house. The songs
like Mirele’s “Help me, Jews” and the chorus reply “Who is this
lost child,” the butcher’s song about the tasty calves’ legs remained
for a long period favorites of the Jewish audience. And while the
satirical exposure of witchcraft soon became outdated, the purity
of the tale with its possibilities for theatrical transformation never
ceased to attract both the directors and the audiences.
His later plays,
Bar Kokhba
and
Shulamis,
both of which were
already considered classics during Goldfaden’s lifetime, show the
maturing of his creative powers. The scenes in which Bar Kokhba
called his people to rebel against the Romans, or the Jews set out
on their Sukkot pilgrimage to Jerusalem, still evoke pride in the
Jewish heroic past. And the lyrics and music exemplify the
author’s originality and charm. Shulamis’ song “Sabbath, the
Holy Day” and Absalom’s “Raisins and Almonds” capture Gold­
faden’s love and hope for his people.
PUBLIC ACCLAIM
People loved Goldfaden’s theater and welcomed with joy every
new production. Even the poorest folk parted with their last