The Golem of Prague


Opera in Three Acts, 2018

Libretto by Sidney Homan

Duration: 100 minutes

Project Overview

Based on the legend of the Golem, a clay creature brought to life to defend the Jewish ghetto in 16th-century Prague, the work addresses a number of serious contemporary issues, including the definition and isolation of “the other”, the assimilation pressures on a diaspora culture, the dangers of differing truths, our relationship to semi-autonomous technologies, the extremes that we might go to in hopes of protecting ourselves, and the terrible costs of such protection.

In the spring of 2020, The University of Florida Opera Theater, directed by Anthony Offerle, will be presenting the world premiere at The Hippodrome Theater in downtown Gainesville. The 3-act, approximately 100-minute work will feature 7 soloists, chorus, and members of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Wardell.


Synopsis

While Rabbi Judah ben Loew, chief Rabbi of the Jewish quarter in late 16th century Prague, is at evening prayers with his family, two men sneak into the ghetto and plant the body of a deceased child near the baker’s shop in order to reinforce the myth that the Jews use the blood of children to bake their bread. The next day, while the Rabbi’s family is weaving blankets for the coming winter, his adolescent granddaughter Eve singing about weaving the man of her dreams, an angry mob comes into the ghetto, beating and dragging away the baker. Pearl, the Rabbi’s wife, pleads for him to take action, no matter the cost, to protect his people. A few days later, at one of their regular visits to talk about the latest in philosophy and science, the Rabbi pleads with Emperor Joseph II to take action to protect the Jews. When it becomes clear that the Emperor will not prove helpful, the Rabbi resolves to create a golem, a creature fashioned from clay that will serve as the protector the Jews need. With his student Jacob and son-in-law Isaac, he brings the creature to life by the banks of the Moldau, inscribing the word Truth on the golem’s forehead.

The Rabbi names the golem Joseph, and he takes his place as servant and protector of the community. Eve and Joseph develop a particularly close friendship, and she teaches him to weave. When the men from the opening of the opera return to the ghetto to plant more fake evidence, Joseph catches them and is hailed as a hero by the community. Joseph resolves to continue to protect the ghetto at any cost. Some time later, Joseph has grown huge and the community has concerns that he is getting harder to control. Eve playfully grants him his freedom, but the creature doesn’t understand how he is to make decisions. When someone starts a fire in the ghetto that burns the food and blankets that were set-aside for winter, the golem violently attacks and kills a group of Christians outside the gates of the ghetto. The Rabbi visits the Emperor, who insists that Joseph must be destroyed, and the Rabbi agrees, seeing that his creation has gotten out of control. He does so by changing the inscription on Joseph’s forehead from Truth to Death. At the end of the opera, we see Eve sneak into the attic where Joseph’s body is laying, knife in hand, poised, perhaps, to reawaken the golem.

Characters:

Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, elderly chief Rabbi of Prague (bass-baritone)
Pearl, his wife (mezzo-soprano)
Devorah, his pregnant daughter (soprano)
Eve, his teenage granddaughter (soprano)
Isaac, Devorah’s husband (baritone)
Jacob, the Rabbi’s student (tenor)
Janos, the family’s helper (tenor)
Emperor Rudolph II, the Holy Roman Emperor (baritone)
Other 1 and Other 2 (baritone and tenor*)
Joseph, a Golem who doesn’t speak, but whose thoughts are sung off-stage (non-singing actor, plus an off-stage baritone, with voice altered and lowered electronically**, or a computer synthesized voice)
Chorus: soldiers, mob, ghetto residents (SATB)

*roles could possibly be doubled with Isaac and Jacob
**voice role could be sung by Emperor

Setting: late 16th-century Prague, in the Jewish Quarter [streets, Rabbi’s home, cemetery, attic of the Shul (synagogue)], by the banks of the Moldau River, and the Emperor’s Palace

Orchestra:

Flute/Piccolo
Oboe/English Horn
Clarinet in Bb (A)
Bassoon
Horn in F
Trumpet in C
Trombone
Percussion
Glockenspiel, Triangle, Small Suspended Cymbal, Large Suspended Cymbal, Temple Blocks, Bongos, Tambourine, Snare Drum, Conga Drums, Low Tom-tom, Small Bass Drum, Jawbone, Tam-tam
Piano
Strings