Ted Rosenthal, a winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition, was inspired to write Dear Erich when he discovered over 200 letters (subsequently translated by Dr. Peter Schmidt,) written in Germany between 1938 and 1941 by his grandmother, Herta Rosenthal, to his father, Erich, a Jewish scholar who escaped to the United States.
Mr. Rosenthal sets the production, in wartime Germany and Chicago, and employs the musical idioms of the 1930’s and 40’s to create this poignant retelling of his own family history – the heartbreaking story of a family’s dual fates – a son’s journey and new life in the New World, and the cruel demise of his family at the hands of the Nazis which he was powerless to stop.
“Jazz opera in my mind is a crossover production, it involves elements of European classical music, woven into a jazz score, which is what I’ve done,” Mr. Rosenthal tells CBS news.
“It’s very emblematic of Dear Erich in the story, where my father Erich crossed over the Atlantic to the new world, after being closed in on by the Nazis, and he found in America freedom, democracy, and things that are emblematic with jazz, swing, improvisation, and found a new world in America.”
Dear Erich was commissioned by the New York City Opera, and features set design by John Farrell, costume design by Janet O’Neill, and lighting design by Susan Roth.
Performances will take place Wednesday, January 9 at 7:30pm (opening night); Thursday, January 10 and Saturday, January 12 at 7:30pm; and Sunday, January 13 at 1 pm.
Ticket pricing begins at $25
Composer Ted Rosenthal spoke recently to CBS news about the production
“Dear Erich tells a refugee story for our times. How can a family cope as the walls of their nation’s hatred close in around them? For those who escape, what lies ahead? Even in the land of the free, are they ever really free? What if they never learn the fate of loved ones left behind and the communications just stopped? What does closure mean, why does remembrance matter, where does hope come from?
Erich, a Jewish academic, escaped Nazi Germany to the U.S. shortly before Kristallnacht. The opera tells the story of a family’s dual fates. Erich’s journey to a new life in the new world – his studies, jazz and love – while the situation deteriorates in Germany and his family ultimately meets their cruel demise at the hands of the Nazis. Frustrated and powerless to help them emigrate, Erich must live with deep survivor guilt which affects him in his relationships with his wife and children.”
Erich Rosenthal in his twenties
“Dear Erich addresses these themes – walls and wars, refugees and immigrants, survivors and victims, the promise of a new world. Dear Erich asks what is found when a survivor forms a new family, and what gets lost when the next generation is untethered to the past? The opera’s scenes of immigration and refugees in crisis raise moral dilemmas that resound to this day. Finally, Dear Erich stands for the power of remembrance, not just to honor the past but also to root us in the present and chart our future.”
Visit the New York City Opera’s Dear Erich website page here.
MSM faculty member, the jazz composer and pianist Ted Rosenthal
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