Watching the Israel Musicals’ show, Ode to a Golden Age, I could not help but think of On The Other Hand, the title of the long-running Jewish Chronicle newspaper column written by Chaim Bermant.
In one regard, the production paralleling the respective genius of strictly Orthodox cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and the secular but avowedly Jewish Broadway composer, George Gershwin is so odd it shouldn’t work well - even in Israel.
It shouldn’t work at all.
But last week, as an ESRA Karmiel audience swiftly discovered, tenor Rabbi Yisrael (Seth) Lutnik and award-winning Haredi pianist, Haim Tukachinsky, somehow transcended the strangeness and put the two late stars through their paces as deftly as anyone may wish.
How did they do it? I’m still not quite sure!
It is not because of Lutnik’s quirky form of ‘storytelling historical concert’.
This, to be honest, I found confusing.
It was, I suggest, because Lutnik somehow illustrated that secular Gershwin was as deeply religious as the cantor and that Rosenblatt, like all artistes, was simply desperate for an audience. But that was at a price: only if he could express his Jewish soul; continue his ongoing ‘dialogue with God’.
Gershwin’s music often revealed his Jewish background. Indeed, while fellow US Jewish composer Leonard Bernstein mused that the themes in Rhapsody in Blue were “terrific – inspired, God-given …” there were pieces from the folk opera Porgy and Bess as assuredly Jewish as they were African American.
But I keep thinking of the song, Someone to Watch over Me from the show, Oh, Kay! While its title was devised, not by George’s brother Ira but by another Jewish lyricist, Howard Dietz, its sentiments, I am convinced are most psalmic, reminding me, no matter how and by whom it is sung, of Psalm 121.
So, as Lutnik has featured ol’ blue eyes in another show, I conclude here with Frank Sinatra’s distinctly balladic call for romantic – even divine protection.
© Natalie Wood (25 June 2017)