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Unless otherwise noted, all scores (and parts) are available by contacting me directly
This two-act opera, with a running time of two hours and 15 minutes, is based on the powerful story in the Book of Genesis about the origins of the Jewish and the Arab peoples, and about the intense personal struggle that goes on in the family of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar over the birth of their children Isaac and Ishmael. The Librettist is Charles Kondek.
The first act of the opera was presented in concert form in 2005; a CD recording of that performance, with Elizabeth Shammash, Ilana Davidson, and Robert Gardner in the principal roles, and conducted by Michael Adelson, is available by contacting email@example.com, or by download from oySongs.
For more information, including a full synopsis: firstname.lastname@example.org
Neither Mozart, Verdi, Rossini, nor even the modern-day composer John Adams thought to do it, yet the age-old story was ripe for the plucking, juicy with drama and conflict, tragedy and a complicated love triangle, the thematic lifeblood of opera. But Gerald Cohen, cantor of Shaarei Tikvah, the Scarsdale Conservative Congregation, did. He is composing an opera based on the story of Sarah and Abraham and Hagar in the Bible’s Book of Genesis, and in doing so, he joins the ranks of American composers contributing to the new opera boom in the United States. The first act of the composer’s opera-in-progress, “Sarah and Hagar.” will be presented in concert form at Shaarei Tikvah on Tuesday, May 24, at 8 p.m.
The action of the opera takes place in Amsterdam, at Westerbork Transit camp, and at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp between the years of 1943-1945. Thirty-year old Jaap Polak is unhappily married to Manja, a social butterfly with a sharp tongue. He falls in love with twenty-year old Ina Soep, whose boyfriend, Rudi Acohen, has been seized and deported to Poland by the Nazis. When the husband, his wife, and his new girlfriend are deported to Westerbork, they actually find themselves living in the same barracks. Jaap’s wife objects to the relationship and Jaap and Ina resort to writing secret love letters, which sustain them throughout the horrible circumstances of the war.
Although friends and relatives of theirs, including Rudi, perished in the camps, Jaap and Ina survived the Holocaust. They were married for almost 70 years; Ina died in 2014 and Jaap in 2015.
STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME was first written as a book in 2000, featuring their letters and their story. A distinguishing feature of their book of letters is how they allowed the story to unfold; unedited; their shortcomings and faults are just as easy to see as their nobility, and their honesty makes the story compelling and real. The Village Voice wrote that their story “offers a corrective to the sentimental prevailing notion that the Shoah only happened to saints.”
In 2007, STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME was made into a compelling and award-winning documentary feature film by Academy Award® nominee Michèle Ohayon. The Polaks dedicated their lives to teaching about the Holocaust and fighting prejudice. Jaap was one of the founders of the Anne Frank Center USA, and later served as Chairman Emeritus. As Jaap says: “I’m a very special Holocaust survivor. I was in the camps with my wife and my girlfriend; and believe me, it wasn’t easy.”
Opera Colorado will present the world premiere production of STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME, the opera that I wrote with librettist Deborah Brevoort, in January 2018 in Denver. The opera is a love story, full of hope, set during the the dark times of WWII concentration camps. It is based on the book of the same title by Jaap and Ina Polak, whom I knew for more than 25 years, and who had the chance to see the opera in its first semi-staged production in 2013.
Opera Colorado’s production will feature conductor Ari Pelto (music director of the company), stage director Omer Ben Seadia, and a cast led by soprano Inna Dukach, baritone Gideon Dabi, and mezzo Adriana Zabala.
The press release about the Colorado Opera’s production can be read here.
Performances will be:
January 25, 27, 28, 30, 2018
Elaine Wolf Theater at the Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center
350 S. Dahlia Street, Denver, CO
Tickets will go on sale in Spring 2017.
STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME has previously been performed in the following workshop performances:
•2013: Shaarei Tikvah, Scarsdale NY, and Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, NY: Semi staged concert version of complete opera
•2014: National Opera Center, Opera America, New York, NY: Excerpts of opera
•2016: Fort Worth Opera Frontiers Festival: Excerpts of opera
Steal A Pencil For Me: Meet Maestro Ari Pelto Opera Colorado Music Director Ari Pelto. Photo: Kelly Maxwell/Opera Colorado By Kelly Maxwell 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 […]
Link to Article Holocaust love story told in world premiere opera Opera Colorado selected to stage ‘Steal a Pencil for Me’ in Denver 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 […]
Based on the book of the same title by Jaap Polak and Ina Soep Polak, STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME is a new opera with music by Gerald Cohen and libretto by Deborah Brevoort. A private presentation of excerpts from Steal a Pencil for Me took place at the National Opera Center (at the home of […]
Review of “Steal a Pencil for Me” Scarsdale Inquirer, May 10, 2013 by Andrea Kurtz For many years, Gerald Cohen, the cantor at Shaarei Tikvah Congregation in Scarsdale, wanted to write an opera about the Holocaust. In the interim, he’d composed a two-act opera about Sara and Hagar and a shorter one about a post-apocalyptic […]
A Holocaust Story with a Happy Ending? Lucid Culture Blog It’s a story straight out of Hollywood, except that it’s true. Jaap Polak survived the Nazi death camps with his wife and his girlfriend – barely. Tuesday night at the Jewish Theological Seminary auditorium, their improbable story was brought to life in chilling detail in […]
Opera shares Eastchester couple’s romance in concentration camp by Julie Moran Alterio Whether it’s “Aida” or “The Hunger Games,” a love triangle makes for enduring drama. The real-life tale of an Eastchester couple caught in a love triangle while struggling to survive inside Nazi concentration camps is the inspiration for a new opera with music […]
Composer Gerald Cohen stages Jack and Ina Polak’s ‘complicated’ concentration camp romance. George Robinson Special To The Jewish Week The composer Gerald Cohen has known Jack and Ina Polak for over 25 years, first as their cantor at Shaarei Tikvah Congregation in Scarsdale and, gradually, as a friend. So when he asked the couple if […]
“Last week I witnessed the second performance of Gerald Cohen’s new Opera, Steal a Pencil For Me at JTS. It was a great experience! I found the music hypnotic. At this stage, it was scored for piano, violin, cello and clarinet, so skillfully, that at times it sounded like an orchestra. The singers were world class, with the astonishing Ilana Davidson playing the female lead. The excellent libretto by Deborah Brevoort, was brought forth by brilliant lyric diction by the singers, and the conductor, Ari Pelto, was wonderful. The audience was filled with many of New York’s musical intelligentsia, as Gerald has already built up a reputation. My friends, this is the work of a Master. I truly believe this musically passionate man carries the line of such great Jewish Composers such as Copland and Bernstein.”
Cantor Jack Mendelson
“Thank you for the beautiful gift to the Polaks and to those of us in the audience last night. What a memorable evening! The glorious score, fine musicianship (the 4 instrumentalists were superb–I never missed a full orchestra– and the singers were outstanding), and of course, the powerful story. King Solomon had it right: “Love IS stronger than death. Having the Polaks in the audience was ever so moving.”
Carol K. Ingall, Ed.D
Dr. Bernard Heller Professor Emerita of Jewish Education
The Jewish Theological Seminary
“I have to tell you that I woke up thinking about the opera. It was a completely compelling and thrilling performance and I am truly dazzled by your music. And the story of course! One of the occupational hazards of being so Jewishly-entrenched is “Holocaust fatigue.” I think that we often are at danger of missing great cultural offerings because we assume we have seen something similar. Steal a Pencil for Me is unlike ANYTHING I have ever seen. Being able to see it in an audience with the inspirations for it was incredibly moving…Thank you for inspiring and uplifting me!”
Shira Dicker, SHIRA DICKER MEDIA INTERNATIONAL
Creative Communication Consultants