A rare Yiddish-Cuban opera is set to premiere at Teatro Arenal in Havana next month. According to the New York Times, the production, based on a 1931 epic poem written by Ukrainian refugee Oscar Pinis (later known as Ascher Penn), tells the tale of “Cuba’s First National Hero,” Hatuey.
Duly titled Hatuey: Memory of Fire, the opera delves into the Taino chief’s fight against Spanish rule with assistance from Havana-based troupe Opera de la Calle.
“I was willing to change so much of my conception of the piece for the experience of working with them,” composer Frank London said, having agreed to translating most of the opera’s Yiddish passages into Spanish. “They are so young, they are so enthusiastic, and this material is so far beyond what they normally perform, and pushing their boundaries in so many ways. And they’re game for it.”
Although Cuba’s Jewish population dropped following the 1959 revolution, the Klezmatics co-founder also hopes to draw the few that remain into the crowd. “There are still a few of the Jews almost, not quite, but almost from the generation of our poet.”
Hatuey: Memory of Fire premieres on March 3.