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Gimpel the Fool (1975 - 1980)

Opera in Yiddish. Libretto by I.B.Singer. The 92nd St Y, May 1979. Amy Kaiser conductor, Dan Bredemann, director. Revised version, March 1980. English version, April 1985, Dan Held director. Final revision, 2003. 2 hours. Published by MMB.

Comment: The original Gimpel was premiered at Beth-El Synagogue in New Rochelle, New York in November 1975, then it just grew….

Review: “Schiff’s music is eclectic, with touches of Mahler, Stravinsky, Kurt Weill and Jewish cabaret song; the eclecticism, he says ‘reflects the basic eclecticism of the Jewish musical inheritance.’ The orchestra of fourteen has a klezmer tang, with trumpet and clarinet solos, busy fiddle, tuba bass, accordion, mandolin and an electric keyboard part to stand in for cimbalom. The score is catchy, varied, entertaining, and often moving. It is written in traditional Jewish modes and employs figures from cantorial chant. It’s not a pastiche score but a modern one with roots in the past. Schiff’s inventions are distinguished, and his technique is precise. He tells of entering, by way of Singer’s story, into ‘the world of my ancestors…an irrational world full of ghosts and demons but also a world saturated with the moral and spiritual values of traditional Judaism.’ It’s a world close enough to basic human nature and universal myths to be recognizable, yet particular enough to be picturesque. The opera is at once sharp-eyed, sharp-eared and kindly: a modern successor to The Soldier’s Tale and Reynard but more warmly emotional than those masterpieces. There’s a cast of twelve; some of the roles can be doubled. It’s a good opera for campuses and colleges and it might be a hit at city Opera.” Andrew Porter, The New Yorker, 13 May 1985.