Queen Esther, Oratorio
(We apologize for the sound quality – this is an amateur recording by a member of the audience in the 1960 performance)
Excerpts from a live concert at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California.
Performers: Leona Gordon, Soprano; Cantor Josef R. Cycowski, Baritone; Desire Ligeti, Baritone; Leonard Wechs, Tenor; Dr. Howard Thurman, Narrator; Marc Lavry, Conductor; The San Francisco State College Choral Union; The San Francisco Municipal Chorus; Members of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
Lyrics: Book of Esther (Bible), set by Mrs. Helena Lavry
Manuscripts: Located at the National Library of Israel Music Department, the Marc Lavry Archive, System Number(s) 9900364921302051, 99003649209020517
Commissioned by Cantor Roman Cycowski on behalf of Congregation Beth Israel in San Francisco for its centennial celebration.
While at Beth Israel, Cycowski commissioned Marc Lavry, a composer in Israel, to write a cantata, “Queen Esther.” Performed by members of the San Francisco Symphony and soloists from the San Francisco Opera, it was presented to a sold-out house at the War Memorial Opera House. (Leslie Katz, for Jweekly)
Mrs. Helena Lavry used the text of the biblical book of “Esther” and with Lavry’s flare for drama they made a passionate oratorio.
The opening theme of the oratorio is based on an old Persian melody thus setting the era and mood. Each character has its own theme and one can sense his personalities through the music. One can therefore easily hear King Ahasuerus foolishness, Haman’s wickedness or Mordechai’s Jewishness.
There are two choirs: the Kingdom’s choir and the Jews choir, both acting like the chorus in a Greek Drama. The peak of the Drama is when the two choruses join in “To destroy, to kill all the Jews…” Each chorus sings the same text fitted to their context – one as a decree and the other as a lament.
The Narrator’s role is to fill the unsung text from the bible.
The finale “And the City of Shushan Rejoiced and was Glad” is a typical Lavry sound and rhythms. The composition ends with the original Persian motif from the opening.