The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language — libretto by Ben Kaplan

2024
/
Opera

Details

Category

Opera

librettist

Ben Kaplan

WordS by

instrumentation

3 Mezzo-Sopranos, Tenor, and Bass-Baritone with Clarinet, String Quintet, and Piano (Piano-vocal version also available)

duration

50'

commissioned by

premiered by

Purchase Score
...such a creative, sophisticated, and nuanced take on the history of the Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language. This brilliant opera managed to capture, more so than any learned article out there, the paradoxical nature of postwar yiddishism which was at the same time petty and visionary, cosmopolitan and parochial, messianic, but also highly pragmatic, lachrymose and uplifting, tragic and comic, and everything in between. — Ofer Dynes, Columbia University
Thoughtful, masterful work — Arun Schaechter Viswanath, Yiddish Translator of Harry Potter
Truly marvelous — Eddy Portnoy, author of Bad Rabbi

The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language — a chamber opera with a libretto by Ben Kaplan — is based on the true story of Yiddish linguist Yudel Mark, who in 1950s post-war New York City sets out to write the world’s first fully comprehensive Yiddish dictionary — an effort of linguistic preservation, and a memorial to the dead. In the opera, Mark clashes with Max Weinreich — the world’s leading Yiddish authority and the director of the YIVO institute under whose auspices Mark is working —over Mark’s hope to make the dictionary over a dozen volumes long and to include not just contemporary words and rare words of the past, but new words of Mark’s invention for an aspirational future. But Mark’s inspiration flows from a dark secret: he is haunted by the three Alefs—Komets, Pasekh, and Shtumer—three divine emanations of the Yiddish language who compel him to breathe new life into Yiddish.

After the death of Weinreich, Mark mourns the plight of Yiddish culture in America and decides that the future of Yiddish and of his dictionary is in Israel. After moving to Jerusalem, Mark finds himself haunted by the ghost of Weinreich. The two weep over the status of Yiddish, and Mark dies leaving his dictionary incomplete past the letter alef. The opera invites audiences to consider the extent to which a language and a culture can be saved, the nature of grief, and the power of language itself to transform and shape us into who we are.

1
cOMPONENT divider

The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language — libretto by Ben Kaplan

2024
/
Opera
Purchase Score
duration

50'

instrumentation

3 Mezzo-Sopranos, Tenor, and Bass-Baritone with Clarinet, String Quintet, and Piano (Piano-vocal version also available)

premiered by

commissioned by

The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language — libretto by Ben Kaplan
...such a creative, sophisticated, and nuanced take on the history of the Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language. This brilliant opera managed to capture, more so than any learned article out there, the paradoxical nature of postwar yiddishism which was at the same time petty and visionary, cosmopolitan and parochial, messianic, but also highly pragmatic, lachrymose and uplifting, tragic and comic, and everything in between. — Ofer Dynes, Columbia University
Thoughtful, masterful work — Arun Schaechter Viswanath, Yiddish Translator of Harry Potter
Truly marvelous — Eddy Portnoy, author of Bad Rabbi

The Great Dictionary of the Yiddish Language — a chamber opera with a libretto by Ben Kaplan — is based on the true story of Yiddish linguist Yudel Mark, who in 1950s post-war New York City sets out to write the world’s first fully comprehensive Yiddish dictionary — an effort of linguistic preservation, and a memorial to the dead. In the opera, Mark clashes with Max Weinreich — the world’s leading Yiddish authority and the director of the YIVO institute under whose auspices Mark is working —over Mark’s hope to make the dictionary over a dozen volumes long and to include not just contemporary words and rare words of the past, but new words of Mark’s invention for an aspirational future. But Mark’s inspiration flows from a dark secret: he is haunted by the three Alefs—Komets, Pasekh, and Shtumer—three divine emanations of the Yiddish language who compel him to breathe new life into Yiddish.

After the death of Weinreich, Mark mourns the plight of Yiddish culture in America and decides that the future of Yiddish and of his dictionary is in Israel. After moving to Jerusalem, Mark finds himself haunted by the ghost of Weinreich. The two weep over the status of Yiddish, and Mark dies leaving his dictionary incomplete past the letter alef. The opera invites audiences to consider the extent to which a language and a culture can be saved, the nature of grief, and the power of language itself to transform and shape us into who we are.

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