Jewish Dutch poet Jacob Israël de Haan, theatre play


This February 2017 video is the trailer of the Dutch theatre play Salaam Jeruzalem, by theatre organisation De Nieuw Amsterdam, about Jewish Dutch author Jacob Israël de Haan.

On 25 March 2017 I went to see this play in Leiden.

Jacob Israël de Haan (1881-1924) was from an Orthodox Jewish family. He broke with that religion and became a socialist journalist. In 1903, he collected money for the children of railway workers who had been sacked because they had gone on strike. He was also a gay rights pioneer, writing novels like Pijpelijntjes. He is seen as a predecessor of Amnesty International. Because of his activity, inspired by a meeting with exiled Russian anarchist Kropotkin, against human rights abuses in pre-World War I czarist Russian prisons; jointly with socialist poetess Henriette Roland Holst.

De Haan himself wrote poetry as well.

This video shows some of his 1919-1924 poems.

He had contacts in the Dutch literary avant-garde around De Nieuwe Gids magazine. And he wrote works about laws; he was a Legum Doctor.

De Haan’s experiences in czarist Russia made him aware of the evils of anti-Semitism. That contributed to De Haan’s re-conversion to Judaism. He also became a Zionist. In 1919 he emigrated to Palestine, then a British colony.

In the video at the top of this blog post, one of De Haan’s poems, written in Palestine, is recited. It is (my translation):

Unrest

Who in Amsterdam often said, “Jerusalem”
And was driven to Jerusalem,
He now says with a dreamy voice:
“Amsterdam. Amsterdam.”

As the poem shows, De Haan had become ambivalent about emigrating from Amsterdam. Zionism as practiced in Palestine turned out to be different from De Haan’s lofty ideals when he had been in Amsterdam. De Haan became an advocate of negotiating with Palestinian Arabs so that Jews and Arabs might live together peacefully.

That made him an enemy of the Zionist paramilitary organisation Haganah. On 13 June 1924, Haganah fighter Avraham Tehomi murdered De Haan, as ordered by Haganah commander Itzhak Ben-Zvi (later the second president of the state of Israel). A crowd of 5,000 people attended De Haan’s funeral in Jerusalem.

Left Zionist Moshe Beilinson reacted to the murder:

The flag of our movement must not be tarnished. Neither by the blood of the innocent, nor by the blood of the guilty. Otherwise – our movement will be bad, because blood draws other bloods. Blood always takes revenge and if you walk down this path once, you do not know where it would lead you.

A line from a De Haan poem is inscribed in the monument in Amsterdam for LGBTQ people murdered by the 1940-1945 German nazi occupiers of the Netherlands. The line is ‘Naar vriendschap zulk een mateloos verlangen’; ‘Such a boundless desire for friendship’.

A review of the play is here. Another review is here. And here.

There are five actors in the play. Two of them play Arab music. Egyptian Dutch actor Sabri Saad El Hamus plays both De Haan and, at the end, an Arab singer. Ludo van der Winkel plays the cynical antagonists of De Haan; like Arnold Aletrino (named in the play only by his pseudonym Sam from De Haan’s gay novel Pijpelijntjes), the older fellow author who betrayed Jacob Israel when Pijpelijntjes caused a scandal in homophobic public opinion. And P.L. Tak (named in the play), newspaper chief who sacked De Haan because of Pijpelijntjes.

Randy Fokke plays both De Haan’s wife and Carry van Bruggen, De Haan’s sister and also a famous Dutch author. Carry van Bruggen never got over the murder of her one year younger brother.

This English language video is about De Haan.

In the play, by Dutch playwright and director Gerardjan Rijnders, there are several allusions to happenings after the death of De Haan; including recent ones. When talking about De Haan joining the marxist Dutch Social Democratic Workers’ Party, actors say: ‘the predecessor of the Dutch PvdA labour party … or what is left of it’. In the recent 15 March 2017 Dutch elections, the PvdA went from 38 to 9 MPs because they had been junior partners in a right-wing coalition government. The play also mentions French playwright Jean Genet’s solidarity with Palestinians in the 1980s. This is followed by a xenophobic, Geert Wilders-like rant by Ludo van der Winkel.

The play includes a theory about right and left halves of the human brain, supposedly linked to the origins of religions. It is unclear what this has to do with De Haan. I think it is one of the weak sides of this interesting play about an interesting person.

Ancient Aeschylus play and today’s refugees


This video from Scotland says about itself:

29 September 2016

Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and Actors Touring Company Present

THE SUPPLIANT WOMEN

by Aeschylus, in a new version by David Greig.

1 – 15 October 2016 at The Lyceum and then touring.

The creative team talk about staging this 2500 year old play that feels more relevant than ever, working with a community chorus and combining ancient and contemporary music….

Learn more about the play here.

By Paul Foley in England:

Women begging immediate attention

Tuesday 21st March 2017

Written almost 2,500 years ago, a drama on the migrants’ plight is a play for today if ever there was one, says PAUL FOLEY

The Suppliant Women

Royal Exchange, Manchester

5/5

THIRTY-FIVE women, fists defiantly aloft, chant: “Power to women!” The lights snap off and the theatre erupts with cheers.

As endings go, they don’t come much better than this and David Greig’s scintillating adaptation of Aeschylus’s The Suppliant Women deserves that audience response.

In it, migrant women risk everything as they cross treacherous seas before washing up on Greek shores. Fleeing forced marriage, incest and rape, they seek asylum. As the women enter at the opening, suppliant batons in hand, they chant and move as in some native American ritual dance. Their fear is palpable but their pride is intact.

“To act or not to act” is the dilemma facing The King of Argos. Protecting these migrant women will lead to war but fail them and Argos will be shamed for ever. His solution is to rely on democracy and let the people decide.

On the eve of the vote, the women are reminded that as migrants they will be feared and mistrusted. They must remain meek and respectful so that the people — and we — can see the merits of their cause.

Ramin Gray’s spellbinding production for the Actors Touring Company, aided by Sasha Milavic Davies’s choreography and John Browne’s music, has 35 women — all volunteers from the local community — making the case on behalf of refugees around the world, with Gemma May superb as the ringleader corralling her sisters.

Aeschylus inverts the normal Greek dramatic tradition by putting the chorus, usually a device to drive the narrative forward, centre stage. But here it is itself the story, with the main protagonists merely on the periphery.

Moving to the rhythm of the sea, they sway back and forth like hypnotised snakes as they dance to the haunting sounds of Callum Armstrong’s Aulos pipes.

Then, suddenly, they’re whipped into a frenzy, as if an ill-wind is tossing them into a vortex of doom.

In a world where scapegoating migrants and refugees escaping poverty and war is the norm in some quarters, Aeschylus reminds us of our common humanity.

Highly recommended. Runs until April 1, box office: royalexchange.co.uk.

Gisela May, German singer, actress dies


This video series is about singer and actress Gisela May.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Actress, singer and Brecht interpreter Gisela May dies

Today, 19:35

In Berlin, the legendary German actress and singer Gisela May has died.

May built a huge reputation for her roles in the plays of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. Especially her leading role in Brecht’s Mother Courage and her children was a great success: May played that for fourteen years, from 1978 to 1992. Also her role in Mahagonny by Weil set the standard in Germany. She was until 1992 a member of the East German Berliner Ensemble.

Solo performances brought May successes as well, not only in Germany, she performed, eg, at Carnegie Hall in New York City and at the Scala in Milan.

On television, she was known as Muddi in the series Adelheid und ihre Mörder.

Gisela May in recent years lived in retirement. She was 92 years old.

See also here.

Actress Glenda Jackson in Shakespeare’s King Lear


This video from England says about itself:

27 October 2016

Glenda Jackson and Antony Sher both play Shakespeare‘s King Lear this winter in London. The only question is which one you’ll see first!

By Gillian Piggott in Britain:

Thursday 17th November 2016

GILLIAN PIGGOTT sees Glenda Jackson give one of the great tragic performances in a flawed production of King Lear

King Lear
Old Vic, London SE1
3/5

IN THIS King Lear, Glenda Jackson makes a storming return to the theatre after more than two decades in British politics and her monumental performance shows just how much politics’ gain has been the stage’s loss.

Lear is the perfect choice for the wiry Jackson, whose elderly body, beautiful and androgynous, fascinates. The question of a female playing a fading old man does not even arise. She completely inhabits the role.

Jackson’s greatest asset always was, and still is, her mellifluous voice and meticulous articulation. That vocal range, moving effortlessly from gentle lower register to harsh higher notes paints Lear’s journey in bright colours and affords us the chance to relish the poetry.

But while Jackson’s performance will go down as one of the great Lears, director Deborah Warner’s uneven interpretation of the play as a domestic tragedy about the indignities and injustices of old age downplays the epic dimension and political context and fails to support Jackson’s marvellous work.

Surprisingly, Warner appears not to trust the material, seeking instead to import contemporary references at every turn.

While Jackson’s androgyny reflects the current interest in gender fluidity, clunky gimmicks such as setting the play in a rehearsal room or actors simulating masturbation and copulation are distractions.

And it’s difficult to take in the wonderful “stand up for bastards” speech by Edmund (Simon Manyonda) if it is delivered while he is working out.

Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks are good as Goneril and Regan and the sado-masochistic relationship between the latter and Cornwall (Danny Webb) works as a reading.

But no effort is made to make a case for the sisters’ cruelty and their “filial ingratitude,” lessening the dramatic texture of the characters and the play. Rhys Ifans, genuinely funny, is a fine fool.

But some of the younger cast members, far less convincing, are “severely o’erparted,” an instance being Morfydd Clark. Her excessively emotional interpretation of Cordelia renders her delivery inaudible.

Runs until December 3, box office: oldvictheatre.com.

Mozart in London theatre, historically correct?


This video says about itself:

Long-Lost Mozart Score Performed For First Time By Czech Musician

16 February 2016

After a musicologist discovered the piece in the reserve collection of the Czech national music museum, a long-lost composition by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri was performed for the first time on Tuesday.

The piece also appears to show the rivalry between the two was not especially fierce. It provides more evidence that Salieri played no role in Mozart’s death in 1791 at the age of 35. The play and Oscar-winning film “Amadeus” detailed such a murderous rivalry.

The collaborative score was written in 1785. That was during one of the most fruitful periods of Mozart’s career. He composed some of his best-known pieces then, including the operas “Don Giovanni” and “The Magic Flute.”

Ulrich Leisinger, director of research at the Mozarteum Foundation Salzburg, said, “Salieri did not poison Mozart, but they both worked in Vienna and were competitors.”

Museum officials said, the piece, titled “Per la Ricuperata Salute di Ofelia” (“For the recovered health of Ophelia”), was written to celebrate the recovery of an English singer who had performed pieces by Mozart and Salieri. They said it is unclear whether it was ever performed in public before today.

See also here.

By Yvonne Lysandrou in Britain:

Discordant notes in Mozart portrait

Tuesday 8th November 2016

Amadeus
National Theatre
3/5

IT SEEMS as if the popularity of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, which returns to the National Theatre after its triumphant premiere in 1979, has not waned. It’s already sold out until next year, although there will be live cinema screenings in February.

Over the decades, audiences have been drawn to Shaffer’s reimagining of the fractious relationship between Antonio Salieri, successful Italian composer of the Austrian court, and the wunderkind Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

His recent arrival in Vienna invokes Salieri’s tortured awareness of his own mediocrity and, apart from falterings in the play’s long opening, the verbal dexterity of Lucian Msamati as the Italian composer is impressive throughout, providing a balanced and often poignant interpretation of the conflicted musician.

The most striking feature of the production is the presence onstage of the 20-piece Southbank Sinfonia and they deliver an evocative and heightened theatrical moment, playing the various pages of Mozart’s music as they fall from the hands of the astonished and anguished Salieri.

Yet Shaffer’s portrait of Mozart (Adam Gillen) in Michael Longhurst’s production seems entirely based on the scatological letters he often wrote to his friends and family. Certainly that stark contrast between a lively, vulgar young man and the sublimity of his music intrigues but here his genius comes across as completely inexplicable.

Gillen, with simian gait, tells fart jokes accompanied by hyena laughs throughout and he’d do well to heed the advice of the original production’s director Peter Hall. “You have to make me believe you wrote that music,” he asked of Simon Callow, who played Mozart. No such caution is evident from Longhurst.

While we don’t necessarily expect historical veracity from playwrights, the fact that Salieri was a respected musician, Mozart was hardworking and his wife Constanze was not the strumpet portrayed by Karla Crome but a trained musician, does not in itself make for a great story.

But a more subtle interpretation of the relationship between Salieri and Mozart would add a great deal more interest and complexity to the overly polarised characterisations on show here.

Runs until February 1, box office: nationaltheatre.org.uk.