New York City Premiere of Biblical Opera "Hannah" - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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New York City Premiere of Biblical Opera "Hannah"

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hannah, a Biblical opera with music by Dr. Leonard Lehrman and libretto by the composer and Orel Odinov Protopopescu, will have its New York City premiere, semi-staged, with soloists, chorus, piano, organ, violin, tambourine and 261 slide projections on December 23, 2014 at 7 pm at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), One West Fourth Street in Manhattan. [The U.S. premiere will take place on December 9, 2014 at 8pm at Community Presbyterian Church in Malverne, Long Island.] This production will be the first opportunity for an American audience to see the three-act opera live in its entirety. 


Suggested donation: $25

The libretto is based on extensive research, conducted largely at HUC-JIR’s campuses in New York and Cincinnati, with guidance from faculty members Rabbi Martin Cohen, Ph.D., the late Professor Jack Gottlieb, and Cantor Lawrence Avery.  The production features distinguished alumni of HUC-JIR’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, including Cantor David Katz (Eleazar) ’98, Cantor Galit Dadoun Cohen (Dinah) ’10, Cantor Erik Contzius (Nikanor) ’95, Cantor Fredda Mendelson ’96 (Zipporah, 12/9 performance), Cantor Janet Leuchter ’99 (Zipporah, 12/23 performance), and Cantor Daniel Pincus (Development Director) ’00.  Pedro d’Aquino, a member of HUC-JIR's Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music faculty, will perform on organ, piano, and tambourine. Rabbi Joshua Minkin ’00, a founding member of the Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus, which is participating in this performance, will bless the candles at the beginning of the performance on the last night of Hanukkah, December 23.

The opera tells the story of Hannah, sister of the Maccabees, in her own rebellion against tyranny at the time of the first struggle for religious freedom.    The product of years of scholarly research, the libretto is based on 87 bibliographic sources, including 24 books of the Bible and the Apocrypha, and 36 of the Psalms.   It is performed in English, except for the Wedding Psalm, translated back into the original Hebrew for this production.  The 21-member cast includes 8 cantors, one rabbi, and The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by the composer.

“The opera Hannah brings to life the lost legend of the daughter of Mattathias, who confronts her family and community at her wedding ceremony, in protest against the oppressive practice of ‘the law of the first night.’ Resonant with the stories of Dinah, Esther, Lilith, and Judith, the opera presents the hidden ‘her’-story which instigated the Maccabean revolt.  Deeply informed by the biblical and midrashic tradition, Leonard Lehrman and Orel Odinov Protopopescu have composed a ‘tour de force’ which will enrich our musical ears and our understanding of Jewish history,” notes Rachel Adelman, Ph.D., Professor of Hebrew Bible, Hebrew College.

The central legend on which the opera is based is disputed as to authenticity, but is known to date back to the 2nd century C.E.:  Hannah's tearing off all her clothes at her wedding shames her father and her brothers into taking action against the oppressive regime. The hegemon (overlord) Nikanor is killed, but so is Hannah's beloved Eleazar, whose peacemaking efforts give way to the violence of her brother Judah ("the Maccabee").  In the final scene, Hannah prophesies that her youngest brother Simon will be the sole survivor of the Civil War she has unintentionally ignited. He promises to remember her, "by lighting the earth with candles."

"The love duet between Eleazar and Hannah (based on the Song of Songs) and the long passage with the Sukkoth Service are my favorite parts of this opera, displaying Leonard Lehrman’s mastery of contrapuntal voices that are at once dissonant and yet beautifully melodic,” states Orel Odinov Protopopescu, Co-Librettist.

This three-act opera premiered in concert May 1980 at the American Roadside Theatre, Mannheim-Seckenheim, Germany, co-sponsored by the Seventh Army Soldiers Chorus, Heidelberg Music and Theatre, the German-American Institute, the Society for Christian-Jewish Cooperation, the Student Association of the University of Heidelberg; and the Jewish Community of Heidelberg. Click here for further information, including production photos and synopsis.  The complete recording of that production was broadcast by WBAI 99.5 FM on Dec. 25, 1989 and is now available on CD, as well as posted at the Florida Atlantic University Judaica Sound Archives. Click here to hear it.  For a lengthy write-up about the opera see the article in Jewish Currents, April 1981.  To see a promo video and a testimonial by Cantor Charles Osborne, please click here.

The new production is co-sponsored by the After Dinner Opera Company, with support from NYSCA Decentralization and The Puffin Foundation, The Maldeb Foundation, and The Professor Edgar H. Lehrman Memorial Foundation for Ethics, Religion, Science, & the Arts.

Questions? Please call 516-825-2939 or email


About the Cast and Staff:

Cantor MEREDITH GREENBERG (Hannah) received her B.A. in Vocal Performance from Manhattan School of Music, studied at the Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR), and received her ordination as Hazzan in 2009.  She has served as co-spiritual leader for the past six years at Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, NJ.  Recommended by her teacher Ellen Shade, after auditioning for the role of Hannah, singing an aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe, Meredith then sang through the first act of Hannah and exclaimed: "This is a role for me!"—with which the composer heartily agreed.

Cantor RAPHAEL FRIEDER (Mattathias) has served as Chazzan of Temple Israel of Great Neck since 1991. He has appeared in venues from Carnegie Hall to Tel Aviv's Mann Auditorium and Vienna's Volkstheater, and has worked with conductors including Zubin Mehta, Roger Norrington and Gary Bertini. Leonard Bernstein selected him to sing the first public performance of Bernstein's Arias & Barcarolles in Tel Aviv. A featured soloist for the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music on Naxos, he has made numerous recordings for Israel National Radio, and played the role of The Cantor in the hit film Keeping the Faith.  He received his degrees in voice and choral conducting at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, and teaches at Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in NY City.

Cantor DAVID KATZ (Eleazar) ’98, while studying in Israel,  was engaged as the lead tenor in the Jerusalem Great Synagogue Choir singing under Eli Jaffe. He has served as Cantor on Long Island for more than 18 years, the last two at Or Elohim in Jericho,  and was also Cantor of the Raleigh Hotel in the Catskills. Cantor Katz is a member of the "The Three Jewish Tenors" along with Cantors Alberto Mizrachi and David Propis. He has  sung such lead roles in opera as Rodolfo in La Bohème, Alfredo in La Traviata  and Faust in Gounod's Faust in the U.S. and Europe.

Cantor GALIT DADOUN COHEN (Dinah) ’10, born and raised in Ashdod, Israel, earned her Bachelor’s of Music and Artist Diploma from the Ruben Academy of Music of Tel Aviv University and her Master’s of Music from City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. Since 2010, she has served as the Cantor of Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, NJ. Galit has sung opera and classical song in festivals, concerts, and various projects throughout the United States, Europe and Israel. She has won awards and scholarships from the America-Israel Foundation, and participated in young artist programs of the International Vocal Arts Institute led by Joan Dorneman of the Metropolitan Opera. She deeply loves contemporary Israeli music, classical music and traditional Eastern European Hazzanut.

Tenor JONATHAN KLINE (Judah) attended AJR on a course of cantorial study and has made a career in a number of venues and media, here and abroad.  Engaged as a solo artist with NY City Opera in several productions including the world premiere of Haroun & the Sea of Stories,  he appeared in the first national tour of Disney’s Beauty & the Beast.  An accomplished interpreter of early and new music, he has appeared as Evangelist and soloist in J.S. Bach's Matthäus-Passion, and Johannes-Passion, in concert featuring songs of Walter Hilse (accompanied by the composer) and as a principal soloist in the rarely performed Requiem Mass of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Operatically, he most recently appeared in Mark of Cain (Moradesh) and Glory Denied (Older Thompson), at Chelsea Opera; Fra Diavolo (Diavolo) with Bronx Opera; and The Impresario (Angel) at Yard Opera. 

Cantor ERIK CONTZIUS (Nikanor) ’95 is a versatile baritone, a creative composer, and a dynamic performer.  He has a B.A. in Psychology from Rutgers and an M.S.M. from HUC-JIR.  His Jewish repertoire is eclectic, ranging from the highly classical (performing the Ernest Bloch Sacred Service in Bulgaria, Canada, and Israel) to traditional hazzanut (appearing on the stage of the Stardust Ballroom at Kutshers in the Catskills), to dynamic vocal jazz (touring with The Afro-Semitic Experience). Contzius' compositions have been performed by cantors and choirs across the U.S. and can be heard on his album, Teach My Lips a Blessing.  His  editing skills are gratefully acknowledged in the production of the Hannah promotional video.

Cantor MOSHE BEAR (Jonathan), baritone, hails from Pensacola, FL.  He studied at Vanderbilt University and George Peabody Teachers College in Nashville, then JTS and AJR, from which he received his ordination. Former Cantor at South Huntington and Dix Hills Jewish Centers, this year he became Cantor at Temple Gates of Prayer in Flushing.  Metropolitan Region Chairperson of the Cantors Assembly and conductor of the Long Island chapter of HaZamir, he has concertized throughout North America, Europe and Israel, and is featured in the film 100 Voices. The first singer to perform a concert of Yiddish music at Ellis Island, he serves as Passover Cantor of the Yiddish Artists and Friends-Actors Club in Manhattan. 

Cantor FREDDA RAKUSIN MENDELSON (Zipporah, 12/9) ’96 began her career as an internationally known opera and concert singer for over 20 years.  From her debut in Frankfurt, Germany to her contract with the Met she has specialized in the dramatic mezzo repertoire of Verdi, and has sung with most of America’s opera houses, including Santa Fe, San Francisco, and the NY City Opera season in L.A., as well as Barcelona, Rio, São Paolo and Las Palmas, Canary Islands.  In addition to many PBS radio broadcasts, she starred in the PBS telecast of Menotti’s  The Consul  and was featured in the 20th Anniversary Gala from Wolf Trap.  She has recorded CDs for the Union of Reform Judaism and Transcontinental Music, as well as Jewish Music and More (with her husband Jacob Mendelson) and Charles Osborne's Souls on Fire, based on Elie Wiesel’s book, with  narration by Leonard Nimoy. Cantor Mendelson served Temple Beth El of Spring Valley for 3 years and has been the Cantor at Larchmont Temple, Larchmont, NY for the past 15 years.

Cantor JANET LEUCHTER (Zipporah, 12/23) ’99 is the cantor of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center in Dobbs Ferry, NY.  A lyric mezzo, she has performed in many genres, including opera, oratorio, theater, folk and art song.  She is especially known for her ongoing study and performance of Yiddish song.  She was the vocalist with the pioneering women's band Klez-meydlekh and has taught at the Yiddish Folk Arts Program ("Klez-Kamp") and other venues.  She has premiered songs by songwriter Beyle Schaechter Gottesman and is featured on Gottesman's first recording, Zumerteg/Summer Days.  She can also be heard on the The Spirit of Jewish Children's Music  (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), Dancing with the Dead: The Music of Global Death Rites  (Ellipsis Arts) and the soundtrack of the acclaimed documentary Partisans of Vilna.  Her Off-Off-Broadway credits include Maria Irene Fornés in Eyes on the Harem (Obie winner), La Vida es Sueño/Life is a Dream, and Elizabeth Swados' Jerusalem Oratorio. 

HELENE WILLIAMS (Simon), soprano, co-founded the Bronx Opera, where she sang numerous operatic roles, before joining forces with Leonard Lehrman in Jan. 1987 as his star, muse, and Co-Founder of Court Street Music in Valley Stream.   She has performed in all genres across Europe, North America, Latin America, Israel, and Australia--close to 600 times, including concert excerpts from every one of the female roles in Hannah  and 140 works he has written for her.  Career highlights have included Merkin and Carnegie Recital Halls, Dresden's Staatsoper and Center for Contemporary Music, Heinrich Heine concerts in six languages all across Germany, the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA, and the first Yiddish song recital ever given during the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth.  Roles she has created include Queen Isabella and Mrs. Potter  in Lehrman's operas New World  and The Wooing, along with various heroines and villainesses in the works of Marc Blitzstein and Leonard Bernstein. She has been featured in premieres and first recordings of works by 20 L.I. composers on Opus One, Premier, Capstone, Albany, and Original Cast Records, including the first CD devoted to David Diamond's songs, and centennial concert recordings of works by Abel Meeropol, Marc Blitzstein, and Elie Siegmeister.  Former temple soloist in NJ and Brooklyn, she became Choir Director of Jericho Jewish Center this year. Founder of Accent Reduction in English Speech in Valley Stream, she teaches at Baruch College CUNY.

Dr. LEONARD LEHRMAN is the composer of 10 operas, 6 musicals, 4 cantatas, and 195 other works heard throughout Europe, North America, Israel, Russia, Australia, and at the U.N., winning numerous awards. Commissions have included an entire Friday Evening Service (published in part by Transcontinental) for the retirement of Rabbi Daniel Fogel at North Shore Synagogue in Syosset; an opera for the Lake George Festival; An Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Song Cycle  for Corliss Lamont; In Memoriam Arnold Rosner  for Carson Cooman; We Are Innocent (a Rosenberg Cantata); and New World: An Opera About What Columbus Did to the "Indians" – commissioned by The Puffin Foundation, presented by The After Dinner Opera Company at Lincoln Center in 1991, and premiered on Long Island in 1992.  His performances have been posted on over 1400 YouTube videos, best accessed here, with over 113,000 views to date. The first Jew to conduct Fiddler on the Roof!  in Berlin, he received his B.A. from Harvard and D.M.A. from Cornell.  Former Assistant Chorus Master/Assistant Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, he co-founded with Cantor Norman Belink the Jewish Music Group of Long Island and is Founder/Laureate Conductor of the Jewish Music Theater of Berlin; Founder/Director of the Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus and the L.I. Composers Archive; Music Director at Jericho Jewish Center; High Holidays Music Director of the Metropolitan Synagogue; Organist/Choir Director/Composer-in-Residence at Christ Lutheran Church in Rosedale; and Reference Librarian at Oyster Bay Library. From 1992 to 2003 he was Music Director of Malverne Community Presbyterian Church.  Six composers wrote music for his wedding to Helene Williams, conducted by Cantor Charles Osborne at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, July 14, 2002.  Hannah, the only one of his operas not yet produced in the U.S. and posted on YouTube, is the third work of his to receive a premiere at HUC-JIR:  In 1997, his opera Suppose A Wedding, after Bernard Malamud's eponymous Scene of a Play, was premiered in the presence of Mrs. Malamud.  And in 2011, the Motyl String Quartet premiered his Suite #2: Remembrance.  Both these events were co-sponsored by The Long Island Composers Alliance, of which Dr. Lehrman was the first President, 1991-98. This fall he taught the first course ever given in Jewish Opera, at HUC-JIR. Some of his students sang portions of Hannah in rehearsal and in concert. For further information, please click here.  

The Metropolitan Philharmonic Chorus, founded by Leonard Lehrman in 1988 and specializing in  music of social consciousness, has performed and recorded with the Metropolitan Philharmonic Orchestra (founded by Kevin Scott) and independently, at the U.N., Weill Hall, Harlem School of the Arts, WQXR, WBAI, Community Church of NY, Riverside Church, Malverne Community Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church of Huntington/Cold Spring Harbor, Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, Temple Sinai in Roslyn, Temple Judea in Manhasset, Heckscher Park in Huntington, Donnell Library, Queens College, LIU-Post, NYU, Great Neck Library, Long Beach Library, Bryant Library, People's Voice Cafe, and St.-Marks-in-the-Bowery.  Works performed multiple times include Siegmeister's  I Have A Dream  and Lehrman's New World, We Are Innocent, and A Requiem for Hiroshima.  For futher information, please click here. Next fall, the group will perform at the Freeport and Bryant (Roslyn) Libraries.

OREL ODINOV PROTOPOPESCU is an award-winning children’s author and poet, published by major houses. Her book of translations and history, A Thousand Peaks, Poems from China (with Siyu Liu), was selected for the New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age list. The picture book, Two Sticks, was on Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2008 list. Thelonious Mouse, (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011), her second collaboration with the illustrator, Anne Wilsdorf, was the Crystal Kite winner, 2012, of SCBWI's Metro NY region. Orel's first two picture books, Since Lulu Learned the Cancan and The Perilous Pit (a New York Times, 10 Best-Illustrated book, illustrated by Jacqueline Chwast) are now apps from Auryn, Inc. and Two Sticks will soon follow.  Her bilingual poetry app for iPad, A Word's a Bird (Un Mot Est Un Oiseau), was chosen by School Library Journal as one of the best children's apps of 2013.  She translated her own poems into rhymed French.  Orel became fluent in French during the year she met Leonard Lehrman, when both were students in Paris.  (He was studying with Nadia Boulanger; she was studying film.)  They clicked in their admiration for Karl Shapiro, with whom she had studied, and whose poetry had inspired Leonard's cycle The Bourgeois Poet.  A love for music and the music of language informs her work for children and adults.  She was honored to be asked to co-author the libretto for Leonard’s opera, although her contribution was, she writes, "chiefly, to provide some of the raw material that the composer shaped into his final work.  Patriarchal societies that demean women are, unfortunately, not ancient news.  Hannah is an opera of relevance to the plight of women everywhere today, not only in the 'ancient' world. 

NIC CHRISTOPHER (Lighting Designer) is a junior at Hofstra University pursuing a B.F.A. in theater arts with a focus in lighting and set design. Past credits include Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson  (Technical Director); Much Ado About Nothing (Master Carpenter); Urinetown  (Master Electrician); Antony and Cleopatra (Associate Lighting Designer); A Lie of the Mind, This Bud of Love, and Masquerade Musical Theatre Company's Spring Awakening  (all Lighting Designer). 

BARBARA D'ANDREA (Art Director) is a photographer who works in the graphic arts and has shown her work worldwide. She received her B.F.A. from Moore College of Art, an M.F.A. through the Visual Studies Workshop and an M.A. in Art Education from Adelphi University.  She taught art for many years in the Roosevelt Union Free School District. As a member of Malverne Community Presbyterian Church, she designed and produced most of the art work that hangs in the sanctuary there.  Ms. D'Andrea has a passion for archeology and has done pinhole photo essays on ancient Egyptian monuments and Mayan temples.  Her April 2000 one-person show was reviewed in the New York Times, which praised her "frequently haunting...daring composition."

PEDRO D’AQUINO (Organ, Piano II, Tambourine), a native of New York City, is Organist and Choir Director of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun of Short Hills, NJ. He is also Cantor of Saint Luke’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan’s Theater District, and Music Director of the Traditional Latin Mass Community at the Church of the Holy Innocents in the Garment District. Prior to his appointment at B’nai Jeshurun, Pedro served as organist of Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York, having previously served as music director of two other synagogues in the New York area stretching back over a period of 30 years. In 2004, he joined the faculty of the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at HUC-JIR/New York.

Cantor DANIEL PINCUS ’00 (Development Director and Indiegogo Campaign Team Leader), is a graduate of HUC-JIR.  A scholar of shofar practice, he has taught numerous shofar workshops and programs in synagogues, as well as online and at HUC-JIR and JTS.  Visit him on Facebook at Shofar Corps and at

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.