Between Two Worlds—
The Dybbuk at 100

June 2020–November 2020
Santa Fe, New Mexico
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Notes by the composer Ofer Ben-Amots

The Dybbuk is a chamber opera in three acts inspired by S. An-sky's timeless Yiddish play, The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds. The play’s subtitle indicates the duality at the center of this haunting drama, which holds in tension life and death, the demonic and angelic, the natural and supernatural, and ancient traditions and modernity. The story of transcendental love between two ill-fated lovers is shrouded with magic, fear, and mystical yearning to repair a shattered world. Leah must choose between life with a man she does not know and death with her beloved.

There are at least 35 different operas and ballets based on this epic play. The current production differs from all previous interpretations in telling the story from Leah’s point of view, in stark contrast to the original play, where Leah’s strictly orthodox community allows her no rights to express her wishes, hopes, or dreams. Viewers can identify with her as the central character and join her on her shattering emotional journey.

Another new dramatic aspect of the opera is the use of an instrument as her lover: the role of Hannan is performed on the clarinet. Since Hannan is a ghost (or wandering soul) throughout most of An-sky's play, the clarinet’s soulful sound portrays him more poignantly than would an operatic voice. When we hear dialogue between the soprano and the clarinet, we are listening to an imaginary conversation between Leah and Hannan. 

Finally, the musical score reinforces the multi-cultural and universal themes of the story. It combines elements from Western, Eastern European, Middle-Eastern, Japanese, and Korean musical traditions, along with klezmer and Jewish cantorial chanting. Ultimately, the opera is meant to express the collective ground that is shared among and passed through all humanity.

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Background photo copyright:
National Center for Jewish Film.