Saturday, February 25, 2017

"Hatuey", Sephardic and Klezmer Music in Havana 2017

Press Release

Contact: Ruth Behar 734-747-9197

February 22, 2016

Celebration of Jewish Culture in Cuba
Celebración de la cultura judía en Cuba
March 3-4, 2017

ANN ARBOR, MI:  The first public celebration of Jewish culture in Cuba will be a landmark event bringing together music, dance, opera, and literature. The idea originated with MacArthur Genius recipient and prize-winning scholar and writer Ruth Behar, who has been promoting cultural and artistic bridges between Cuba and the United States for over twenty years. Ruth is a renowned expert on the history and culture of the Jews of Cuba and wanted to share with a wide public the vibrancy of the Jewish Cuban heritage on the island.

The highlight of the celebration will be the premiere on March 3rd of the Yiddish-Cuban opera, Hatuey: Memory of Fire. The opera is based on a 1931 epic poem by the Ukranian-Jewish immigrant writer, Usher Penn (Oscar Pinis in Cuba), penned after he arrived to safety in Cuba. With the memory of the pogroms in Europe still fresh in his mind, Penn wrote about the suffering of the indigenous people of Cuba and their resistance to Spanish domination.

In a unique collaboration, La Opera de la Calle in Havana, which aims to make opera accessible to all Cubans, will perform the work, teaming up with American artists, drawing on the stunning libretto by Elise Thoron, original music by Grammy-award winning musician Frank London, and production support from Diane Wondisford and Michael Posnick, son-in-law of the author Usher Penn.

Ruth Behar met Michael Posnick in Havana in May, 2016. When Michael told her about the dream of bring Hatuey: Memory of Fire to the Cuban stage, Ruth Behar was determined to help make this dream come true. Her own maternal grandparents were Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Poland. Staging a Yiddish-Cuban opera in Cuba seemed an ideal way to honor the kindness and tolerance with which Cubans had welcomed Jewish immigrants to the island in the early decades of the twentieth century.

Ruth Behar reached out directly to Ulises Aquino, the director of La Opera de la Calle, in June, 2016 to ask if he would be interested in staging the work with his company. His immediate reply was enthusiastic, saying he was interested in considering the project. Ruth then arranged for a meeting in New York in August, 2016 with Elise Thoron, Frank London, Michael Posnick, and Diane Wondisford, and the opera project was launched.

The excitement surrounding the Hatuey production has garnered attention in the New York Times:

The Cuban press has also written favorably about the project:

A concert of Klezmer and Sephardic music at the Patronato Synagogue on March 4th from 3-5pm will continue the celebration, featuring the Yuval Ron Ensemble and Frank London’s New York Mishpokhe playing separate concerts and ending with a joint jam session.

Ruth Behar, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, was born in Havana and immigrated with her Jewish-Cuban family to New York as a child in the early 1960s. She has been returning to the island for twenty-five years of cultural bridge-building, and has formed close ties with the Jewish community of Cuba. Ruth is the author of An Island Called Home: Returning to Jewish Cuba, among other books. For more information, please visit

A special concert of Yiddish and Sephardic music at the Patronato Synagogue
with the Yuval Ron Ensemble and Frank London's New York Yiddish Mishpokhe

Saturday,  March         4,2017

Yuval Ron and his ensemble will perform a concert of Sephardic music with guest Cuban children's choir Coro Lucecita.

Frank London's New York Yiddish Mishpokhe, to include Sarah Gordon and Zoe Christiansen, will perform klezmer music and Yiddish songs with special Cuban guests.

A video of the premier of "Hatuey; Memory of

Fire" in Havana by Opera de la Calle can be

seen by clicking here

For more background by librettist Elise Thoron, click here

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