How a box of forgotten letters became a Holocaust jazz opera

How a box of forgotten letters became a Holocaust jazz opera

After their widowed father died in 1995, jazz pianist Ted Rosenthal and his sister packed up the household residence in Nice Neck, LI. They didn’t know what that box of letters, all written in German, was doing within the attic, however Rosenthal took them residence, anyway.

The letters stayed, almost forgotten, till some three and a half years in the past, when Rosenthal was invited to his grandmother’s hometown in Germany, the place the native historic society rebuilt a Jewish college destroyed by the Nazis. Rosenthal requested a historian if he’d thoughts translating some of the letters. “Ship them,” he was informed.

The contents, as soon as translated, blew his thoughts.

“It was unbelievable,” the Higher West Sider tells The Put up. “I heard my grandmother’s voice, my aunt’s . . . I didn’t know any of these folks!”

Rosenthal’s father, Erich, by no means spoke of them. In these 200 letters, written from 1938 to 1941, Erich’s mom, Herta, poured her coronary heart out to him, her solely little one, who left Germany to check on the College of Chicago.

He was the one one in his fast household to outlive the Holocaust.

Now that household historical past is an opera. Rosenthal’s “Pricey Erich” — scored for a string quartet, jazz trio, woodwinds, brass and the New York Metropolis Opera — performs by way of Sunday on the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

“I view it as a crossover piece,” says its 59-year-old composer. Not solely is it a combine of genres — assume hovering arias and bluesy horn solos — however it describes the journey taken by his father, who crossed the Atlantic towards freedom and a new life as a sociologist, Queens Faculty professor and household man.

Rosenthal suspects that survivor’s guilt saved his father from talking of the previous. “He by no means knew what occurred to his mom,” he says. “I’m positive that contributed to the ache he felt, however by no means mentioned.”

The opera flits between previous and current, Chicago and Germany. Some of the letters are sometimes motherly: Regardless of her hardships, Herta worries that her son isn’t consuming sufficient.

One of probably the most heartbreaking missives adopted the Nazi rampage Kristallnacht. Conscious that her letters may very well be learn by the authorities, Herta selected her phrases rigorously.

“Your father needed to take a journey with many associates and kin,” she wrote. That was code, Rosenthal says, for “they had been herded up and brought away.” There have been no focus camps but, however Theodor Rosenthal finally returned to his spouse so damaged, he died days later.

And Herta? Rosenthal’s spouse, Lesley — an “web analysis wiz,” who co-wrote the opera’s libretto — discovered data exhibiting a prepare from Herta’s city left on June 12, 1942, six months after her final letter. It went to the Sobibor dying camp.

“Within the opera, we are able to do a few issues we are able to’t in actual life,” says Rosenthal. “There’s a misplaced letter we made up the place Erich does study [about] his mom — and that she actually wished him to go forth along with his life.”

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