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Breathing New Life Into Works By Composers Who Suffered Oppression

An upcoming opera concert featuring a collection of works by composers who were suppressed by fascist regimes of the 20th Century will be performed at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The concert, “Journey Out of Darkness,” is part of the Numi Opera season. 

There will be performances of songs by Erich Korngold, Franz Schrecker, Erwin Schulhoff, Viktor Ullmann, Kurt Weill and Alexander Zemlinsky — who all had first-hand experience with the terror of the Nazis. The tagline for the show is “breathing new life into works by composers who suffered oppression.” Most of the works being performed were composed during tumultuous times. 

Numi Opera Theater Founder Gail Gordon organized the show as a way to expose the art and emotion of these performers with the memory of her mother. 

“There’s a bunch of composers [who] represent what I feel,” Gordon told The Journal. “My story is through my mom.” 

Gordon’s mother was a refugee who came to the United States from Eastern Poland in 1938, just before the invasion. Her mother told her stories about her upbringing and her family’s struggle to survive the Nazi invasion. Her mother was the daughter of a cantor and a singer; Gordon was a cantor for six years at Temple Judea in Tarzana.

The show has an even more special meaning to Gordon, since it is being performed on the heels of the invasion of the Ukraine. Her mother was born 50 kilometers outside of Lviv, a hub of Jewish life. 

“With all of this stuff going on when the show’s being created, Ukraine is always in the back of my mind, because that’s where my family is from,” she said.

 “Journey Out of Darkness” will be Numi Opera’s first performance since its founding in 2019. Even as the world opened up little by little in 2020 and 2021, opera shows went dark due to local regulations.

“Opera was not allowed for the first year because of the compression of air that comes out when you’re a singer,” Gordon said. 

There was extra concern about opera audiences being vulnerable because the performers are the instruments — and they are mighty powerful at unleashing the talent inside them. For indoor opera performances, the singers are rarely mic’d up. 

Gordon started producing opera over 20 years ago. She spent many years teaching vocal performance before starting Santa Monica College’s opera program in 2008. When the program moved to the Broad, Gordon began to focus on making music that honored her mother’s story.

 “It was sort of a marriage of my mom’s story and these composers [who] either were killed in Auschwitz or had to stop writing because the Nazis came in.” – Gail Gordon

“I became familiar with these composers who were suppressed by the Nazi regime,” she said. “So it was sort of a marriage of my mom’s story and these composers [who] either were killed in Auschwitz or had to stop writing because the Nazis came in.”

The recital’s program will include opera, string quartets and piano. Although the program notes have harrowing back stories of each piece performed, Gordon encourages the audience to read the program notes only after witnessing the show. 

“I think it’s more important just to hear the music, hear what the composer is doing with the music and [see] what type of emotional relationship you have with it,” Gordon said. 

One of the sopranos performing in “Journey Out of Darkness,” Shana Blake Hill, likened rehearsing and performing the music to doing an archaeological dig of Holocaust history through music. Hill told the Journal she hopes there will be a greater appreciation for the resurrection of musical pieces that could have easily been lost forever.

“I hope that you’ll just give it a little room in your consciousness that this exists not just with Strauss and Wagner and
Puccini and Mozart,” Hill said. “There are many other voices that complete the picture of this human experience and of this tonality.” 

“Journey Out of Darkness” is being performed for one night only on Sunday, May 29 at 7:00 p.m. The Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Tickets are now on sale at NUMIOPERA.org.

Source: Jewish Journal

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