Articles written for AUFBAU by Leonard J. Lehrman

AUFBAU 67:23 November 8, 2001 p.16
CULTURE
Adam's First Wife
Conquers a New Stage

Deborah Drattell's Lilith
to Premiere at The New York City Opera
[orig. title:
Lilith to Be Mounted
Mysteries to Be Revealed
at N.Y. City Opera Premiere]
By LEONARD J. LEHRMAN

[bracketed portions were cut]

She's been [flying around,] warded off, guarded against, cursed, reviled, and celebrated for millennia, [but at last she will get] and now she is about to appear on the opera stage. The premiere performances of Deborah Drattell's Lilith will take place on November 11, 15 and 17 at the New York City Opera.

Twenty-nine years ago [next month], Lil[l]y Rivlin's article, "Lilith," appeared in Ms. Magazine. That inspired Enid Dame's famous poem of the same name [available on line at http://www.thing.net/~grist/zines/poonlin/pedame.htm] and, four years later, her founding, with Aviva Cantor, of Lilith Magazine. The midrashim have been piling up ever since, as the image of Adam's first wife, lusting [both for] sexual fulfillment and [for] equality, [obviously] touched a nerve.

Fifty-two writers' submissions were selected (out of hundreds) for the 400-page anthology, "Which Lilith[?]" published by Jason Aronson in 1998, and edited by Rivlin, Dame, and Henny Wenkart[--who was the subject of an _Aufbau_ article earlier this year]. One very amusing submission, by Manya Pruzhanskaya Lackow, became the play Adam and Lilith Eve, staged with much hilarity, and nudity (though no sex), at the Eastern Naturist Gathering in June, 1995.

Websites on Lilith abound, the most rewarding being
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/Lilith/
and Renee Rosen's Lilith Shrine (http://www.lilitu.com/lilith/).

[Deborah Drattell's photo was used as illustration for this article. Another illustration, suggested, but not used, can be found at
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~humm/Topics/Lilith/broca12.html
Lilith Creation, 1995.
Lilith, the Snake, With her Goddess Self, 1996.
Two from a collection of images on Lilith by Lilian Broca.
copyright 1994-1996 Lilian Broca]

Lilith is said to have possible roots in ancient Sumer, while her presence [appearances] in the Zohar and Kabbala have [been] built upon one solitary mention of her in Isaiah. Gershom Scholem's books provide important sources and commentaries on the Kabbala. Some readers may want to explore Jungian disciple Siegmund Hurwitz's Lilith[, die erste Eva] [Daimon Verlag, 1980;] published [in English translation] in 1992.

Lilith is celebrated in touring bands like the Lilith Fair, but serious musical treatment of her has been rare. [An aria about her appeared in the opera Hannah, premiered in Heidelberg in 1980.] In 1986, Brooklyn native Deborah Drattell began the research for an 11-minute tone poem titled "Lilith" while [on leave from a Tulane professorship] serving as the Denver Symphony composer-in-residence. It was recorded by the Seattle Symphony on the Delos album, Sorrow Is Not Melancholy, DE 3159.

Most of the music for that orchestral work was then woven into the interludes of her next Lilith, her first opera, a work of approximately two hours, which was scheduled to be premiered in New York four years ago, [directed by Robin Guarino,] but was cancelled because of union problems.

The first staging at the New York City Opera this month [following a reading at Glimmerglass two years ago] comes just after Drattell's retirement from four years as the company's composer-in-residence, The director of Lilith is Anne Bogart, acclaimed for her previous projects on Emma Goldman and Virginia Wolff. She will also direct the forthcoming Score dealing with Leonard Bernstein.

At a seminar on the opera last month at New York's Colony Club, two short solos were sung with piano accompaniment[, one of them by] soprano Lauren Flanigan [as Eve, who] assured the audience: "The orchestration will blow you away!" On that occasion, Deborah Drattell revealed that [nine years ago] she had met her librettist for Lilith, David Steven Cohen, best known for his work for children on screen and TV (Balto, The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss, Courage, the Cowardly Do[g]), nine years ago at the Educational Alliance, a UJA-sponsored pre-school attended by his children and hers[, which, she told Aufbau, "no longer exists].["]

"The opera is the story of a soul broken," Cohen told Aufbau: "Can it be reconciled?" There are only five characters: a Seer/Serpent, Lilith, Eve, and Eve's son and daughter, who are meant to represent her myriad offspring. ["We found 30,100 sons of Adam in 'Seder Olam,'" the composer told us. How many daughters? "No specific number." Chalk it up to know-nothing patriarchy.]

"The male presence in the story is so strong," said the librettist, that the need for Adam [even] to appear seemed dispensable. The work begins, as per the composer's wishes, with Hebrew liturgy from the burial service[,] for Adam's funeral. [(Cf. Leonard Bernstein's A Quiet Place--his magnum opus, yet to be staged in New York--which begins with the family matriarch's funeral.)]

The cst will also include nine mimes - five male, four female - and [the spoken Seer - all drawn from Anne Bogard's SITI troupe.

There is also] a 16-member all-male chorus. Why all male? In deference to the Orthodox synagogue's outlawing the sound of the female voice? "I don't write for synagogue," replied the composer, who is Orthodox and will therefore not be attending the final performance, on Saturday afternoon, November 17. [The time of the Friday afternoon dress rehearsal November 10, she noted, was moved up to earlier in the day to accommodate her wish to be home by sundown.]

Since composing Lilith Debroah Drattell has written A Captive Spirit, a full-length theater chamber opera with Annie Finch; The Festival of Regrets," a [Tashlich] one-acter with Wendy Wasserstein (with whom she is now collaborating on a new work) [in which the music seemed to be trying as hard as it could not to interfere with the jokes--it] premiered at City Opera as part of the Central Park trilogy two years ago; and Nicholas and Alexandra, a full-length work with Nicholas von Hoffman for the Los Angeles Opera, excerpts from which were heard in New York last May.

In Cohen's libretto, Lilith couples both with men and with Eve. How graphic will the staging be? "That's up to the director," was Drattell's reply. According to Bogart, her concept is expressive, not graphic. "Ideally, the audience should be nude!" was the librettist's response. [Perhaps another time.]

This time, however, at least one secret stands to be revealed. In November, 1999 Aufbau asked [questioned] why Deborah Drattell had been appointed composer-in-residence at New York City Opera when "until now not a note of her operatic writing has been heard in New York City." That question is[, presumably,] about to be answered.





© 1998 Back to List of Articles | last updated on: 8/1/02