New Opera Aims to ‘Slay’ Intolerance

Slaying the DragonA new opera, Slaying the Dragon, by composer Michael Ching, with libretto by Ellen Frankel, will have its world premiere in Philadelphia at the Prince Music Theater June 7 and 9 during the national Opera America Conference, with additional performances at the Academy of Vocal Arts on June 14, 16, and 17. It will be presented by Center City Opera Theater.

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Based on a true story depicted in the book, Not by the Sword by Kathryn Watterson, Slaying the Dragon is about a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, who renounces violence and hatred because of his unlikely friendship with a rabbi and his wife. The opera is a powerful vehicle for confronting contemporary themes of tolerance, the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotyping, and the possibilities of atonement, forgiveness, and personal redemption. Both men undergo personal transformations and break from the prisons of their dark pasts. We are all too familiar today with the brutal landscape of intolerance: bullying, gay-bashing, terrorism, anti-immigrant sentiment, and flash-mobs. One way to confront and overcome these modern manifestations of intolerance is to take a contemporary and non-traditional approach-through opera, for instance.

Ellen Frankel“This opera is a powerful vehicle for confronting contemporary themes,” says Ellen Frankel, librettist for Slaying the Dragon. “Tolerance, the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric and stereotyping, and the possibilities of atonement and personal redemption.”

Although Slaying the Dragon is librettist Ellen Frankel’s first opera, she has been writing libretti for choral works for the past twelve years, working primarily with Philadelphia composer, Andrea Clearfield. In May 2000, the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony premiered Clearfield’s cantata, Women of Valor, which included two pieces by Frankel, “Sarah” and “Hannah.” In 2011, the Women’s Sacred Music Project commissioned Clearfield and Frankel to write a new movement, “Hagar,” for an adapted version of Women of Valor, which was performed in September 2011 at a Philadelphia abbey and synagogue.

In 2005, Philadelphia’s prestigious Mendelssohn Club Choir commissioned Clearfield to write a new oratorio; Frankel wrote the libretto. The resulting work, The Golem Psalms, inspired by the ancient Jewish legend of the Golem, premiered at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2006, performed by the Mendelssohn Club and the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra, with Sanford Sylvan as baritone soloist, and has also been performed at Haverford College, Indiana University, and at Verizon Hall in the Kimmel Center. Frankel and Clearfield have signed agreements with Center City Opera Theater to develop a full-length opera based on the legend of the Golem, as part of CCOT’s Creative Development Projects.

The Five Books of MiriamJPS Illustrated Children's BibleThe Encylopedia of Jewish SymbolsThe Classic Tales: 4000 Years of Jewish LoreDr. Frankel is the author of ten published books, including The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols, The Five Books Of Miriam and JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible, which won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award. She served for eighteen years as the Editor in Chief and CEO of The Jewish Publication Society, the oldest and only nondenominational, non-profit publisher of Jewish works in English, and was named its first Editor Emerita upon her retirement in 2009.

Michael ChingIn writing the music for Slaying the Dragon, composer Michael Ching counters intolerance through the joy of music, bringing together a range of lively, eclectic, and wide-ranging styles. For his score, Ching drew from a variety of musical genres and sources-Yiddish folk songs, Vietnamese children’s songs, Jewish sacred music, Aryan rock, Broadway, and country-western tunes. Slaying the Dragon is Ching’s third full length opera.

Slaying the Dragon is the latest work to emerge from Center City Opera Theater’s Creative Development Projects, an ongoing series of new opera works that are brought from inception to fully-staged premieres. During the two-year development process, workshops for Slaying the Dragon included a libretto reading in June 2011, music workshops in September 2011 as a part of the Philadelphia Live Arts Fringe Festival and a second music workshop in January 2012, plus staged workshops in February 2012.

Ghenady Meirson: An American Soviet Jewry Movement Success Story!

Following the Six Day War in 1967, the Soviet Union restricted Jewish emigration.  The Soviet government feared that Jewish citizens would share valuable information about the Soviet Union with Israel and the United States.  The American Jewish Community galvanized into action.  American Jews were still ashamed of their lack of action when Jews were being annihilated by the Nazis in the 1940s.  The Soviet Jewry Movement was born.

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Ghenady Meirson was born in Odessa, Ukraine.  His family desperately wanted to leave the anti-Semitism they encountered in the Soviet Union.  Thanks to the lobbying efforts of the American Jewish community, his family received permission to emigrate.  In 1971, they took a train from Odessa to Vienna.  From Vienna, they boarded an El Al flight to Tel Aviv.  As the old Israeli joke goes, when Ghenady got off the airplane, he wasn’t carrying his violin case because he is a pianist.

And what a pianist!  After two years in Tel Aviv, he moved to Rome to study at the Santa Cecilia Conservatory.  From there, he came to Philadelphia to study at the Curtis Institute Of Music.  Ghenady Meirson is currently on the faculty of both the Curtis Institute and the Academy of Vocal Arts.  His specialty is Russian Opera repertory.  He performs the works of such Russian composers as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, and Prokofiev.  

This year, Ghenady added something completely different to Philadelphia’s cultural scene: Russian Opera Workshop.  This is a summer training program, which specializes, in Russian opera.  Applicants from all over the world audition via You Tube.  The workshop’s master classes and opera performances are free and open to the public.  In the summer of 2011, his students performed two operas by Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin and Iolanta.  In June 2012, there will be free performances of Rachmaninoff’s Aleko and Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades.  

The American Jewish Community liberated Ghenady Meirson’s family.  He is repaying this generosity with his creativity.  Philadelphia’s Russian Opera Workshop is the only program of its kind in the world!  It enriches our cultural scene and offers Philadelphia’s residents an opportunity to experience something unique!