“Sometimes, truth is stranger than opera. In this touching work by composer Gerald Cohen and librettist Deborah Brevoort (seen Jan. 25), Jaap, an unhappily married fellow, falls for Ina, an engaged woman just before they are both swept away by the Nazis along as part of a group of 400 Amsterdam Jews… Baritone Gideon Dabi (Jaap) and soprano Inna Dukach (Ina) delivered Cohen’s accessible writing with admirable control and ideal enunciation… Company music director Ari Pelto… guided a solid, sympathetic accompaniment through the score’s many mood shifts and changes in meter. “

The world premiere of Steal a Pencil for Me opens this Thursday evening—and few people know better than Opera Colorado Music Director Ari Pelto the long and exciting process of getting this new opera ready for the stage. Over the past five years, he’s spent countless hours working through the piece with composer Gerald Cohen and librettist Deborah Brevoort, then working with stage director Omer Ben Seadia and her creative team as they got the production ready. And now, after a breakneck rehearsal schedule over the past month, Pelto is thrilled for Opera Colorado audiences who are just days away from experiencing the beautiful music and powerful message of Steal a Pencil for Me. Today we check in with Pelto about his experiences with this opera…

The real life story for a new opera was right under composer Gerald Cohen’s nose. As cantor of the Shaarei Tikvah synagogue in Scarsdale, New York, Cohen had known Holocaust survivors Ina and Jaap Polak — members of the congregation there — for over twenty years when he conceived the idea of setting their story to music. Their romance inside a concentration camp had already been the basis of a film documentary called ” Steal a Pencil for Me,” and Cohen easily convinced the couple to consent to and participate in an operatic retelling. But Jaap was 97 at the time and Ina 87, so they urged him to write it quickly. The two were among a group of Dutch Jews deported to the Bergen-Belsen camp in the last year of World War II…

World Premiere of Voyagers, for String Quartet and Clarinet at Hayden Planetarium, American Museum of Natural History, November 28, 2017:
One of the most important tasks for the current classical music world is bringing the wonderful range of today’s classical compositions and the spectacular talents of its performers to contemporary audiences in new and engaging ways. The Cassatt String Quartet, with clarinetist Vasko Dukovski, certainly endeavored to do that with their performance of Gerald Cohen’s Voyagers, for String Quartet and Clarinet…

By Joel Mandelbaum

Steal a Pencil for Me, an opera by Gerald Cohen to a libretto by Deborah Brevoort, was presented on April 30th, 2013 at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York in a semi-staged version, accompanied by an ensemble of four instruments. It tells the fascinating story, true to life down to very particular details, of how two remarkable Holocaust survivors met, fell in love and gradually divested themselves of previous binding relationships—their stories unfolding over a background of increasingly harsh repression by the Nazi occupiers of their native Holland…

These photos (by Arthur Glauberman) are from a Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) ceremony in Scarsdale, NY, Sunday April 7, 2013. Ilana Davidson, playing the role of Ina, and Robert Balonek, as Jaap, performed two excerpts from Gerald Cohen and Deborah Brevoort’s opera Steal a Pencil for Me. And for the first time, the real-life […]