Sunday, June 13, 2004

The Diary of Anne Frank: The Opera (Cleveland Opera)

‘THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK: THE OPERA’--music fails to move audience

The number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling daily. A small group of zealots, including the father of a famous Hollywood film maker and actor, are denying that the Holocaust even took place in spite of extensive documentation.

There are those who feel it is the obligation of the rational among us to make sure that the lessons of the murder of millions of innocents, including one-and-a-half million children, not be diminished or denied. Therefore, it is appropriate that since the famed Holocaust victim, Anne Frank, would have been 75 years of age on June 12, 2004 that a tribute in her honor and to the honor of all those who senselessly perished with her in the hands of the Nazis, be staged.

With this mission in mind, in his last official act as the General Director of Cleveland Opera, David Bamberger staged an evening entitled, ‘WE REMEMBER! A CELEBRATION OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT.’

The evening’s opening segment, “Come to Me in Dreams” was a one-act opera which combined Bamberger’s scenario and the songs of Lori Laitman. The songs were based on a series of Holocaust writings, such the emotionally moving children’s collection, “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.”

“Come to Me in Dreams” showcases a concentration camp survivor who recalls his lost wife and child while telling his story to his surviving child. Each character is represented not only by an actor, but by a musical instrument. This creative device would have been effective if there had been more differentiation between the musical tone and emotion of the instruments. As is, there was a lack of contrast between the “happy” times and the “sad” times. The music lacked texture, didn’t pull at the heart strings. This, not withstanding, the voices of the cast members were excellent.

The overall effect was less than could have been expected. The piece was met with polite applause.

The second act was the Ohio premiere of the Encompass New Opera Theatre’s production of “Diary of Anne Frank” by Grigori Frid. The script puts the well-known story of Anne and her diary, which was first printed in 1947, into a musical venue.

The production brings nothing new to the story. In fact, it does not totally build the same emotional levels as the diary itself, or the play version or the film rendition.

Part of the problem may have been the familiarization with the material. Part may have been that the solo performance eliminated the verbal interactions that helped flesh out the frustration and fears. Part may have been the overly long nature of the piece which started to get tedious near the end. The major problem, however, from my perspective was the music. The contemporary sound just doesn’t sit well in the ear. After a while there was almost a discordant tone, much like fingernails scratching on the blackboard.

Dunja Perchstein as the solo participant, was generally effective as Anne. Often, especially near the end of the piece, her voice was difficult to hear. Fortunately, due to the visual bulletin boards above the stage, the words were available to read. She also failed to emotionally dredge heartfelt feeling from the audience.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Cleveland Opera should be commended for staging an evening of music intended to keep the horror of the Holocaust present in the minds and hearts of the audience. No matter the artistic effectiveness of the evening, the overall message was clear.