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The Road of Promise

                                                                            Photos by Erin Baiano

                                         by Deirdre Donovan

 Kurt Weill might be best-known for his edgy song “Mack the Knife” from his Three Penny Opera, but New Yorkers who dropped by Carnegie Hall on either May 7th or 8th soon learned that Weill had a bent for Judah-themed works as well.  His 1937 opera-oratorio in four acts Eternal Road has been reimagined as The Road of Promise in a new concert adaptation by Ed Harsh and libretto by Franz Werfel. Under Ted Sperling’s reliable baton, and with Wendall K. Harrington’s projection designs creating the narrative in broad visual strokes on the stage’s back wall, this retooled work was performed by the incomparable Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

The aptly-named Road of Promise fuses the story of a synagogue under threat of persecution with the seminal stories from the Old Testament. The traditional stories are recounted by The Rabbi to The Thirteen Year-old Boy, who doesn’t know his Jewish heritage or faith.  As the boy grows in enlightenment, he becomes the “new hope” of his congregation.

Weill and Werfel created the original stage spectacle in the 30s, when Hitler was at his global height and persecuting the Jews.  Though this updated work is being presented in a far different political climate, it begs the question:  How are people still oppressing Jews—and other people--today?

The epic sweep of the piece is impressive!  Not only did the audience have the chance to listen to the old Hebrew stories but could watch how The Rabbi passed on these remarkable tales of the ancient heroes and heroines-- Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Miriam, Moses, Ruth, Isaiah, to mention a few--to the young boy.  What’s more, The Rabbi’s narrative was magnificently backed by the 200-voice chorus of the Collegiate Chorale and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s.

The program was divided into two parts—and it gathered cumulative power as it proceeded from its opener “The Covenant” to the finale “A Vision.”  The story isn’t powerful for its novelty.  For as The Rabbi remarked at the outset:  “My story is not a new story.”  What gave it fresh vibrancy, however, was the young boy pressing his questions about faith to The Rabbi, who then simply answered by recounting key episodes from the Old Testament.

The most intriguing parts of the presentation happened as The Rabbi delvedinto the old stories and revealed how flawed the patriarchs and prophets actually were.  There was no white-washing here.  You learned how the great leader Moses murdered an Egyptian out of anger; the psalmist King David had an illicit affair with Bathsheba; and Isaiah and Zedekiah, though effective prophets had lashing tongues that made them highly unpopular with the straying Israelites.


Bolstered by first-rate singers—actor Ron Rifkin, Anthony Dean Griffey, Mark Delavan, Philip Cutlip, AJ Glueckert, and Lauren Michelle, Megan Marino, Justin Hopkins, and Eli Tokash--who are familiar faces from Broadway and operatic stages the world over, this concert was a feast for the eyes and ears.

Interestingly, the concert’s music gradually evolved from a cacophonous to a harmonious tone as The Rabbi retold how the Israelites traveled toward the Promised Land.  Weill is well-known for his expressive music, and he seems to have found the perfect idiom to express how the ancient and modern Jews overcame a sea of troubles and miraculously reached the” land of milk and honey.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Land of Promise, however, is that it reveals that Weill has, like the biblical Joseph with his coat of many colors, much variety, vigor, and has survived the test of time.

The Road of Promise
At Carnegie Hall, 881 Seventh Avenue, New York, NY
Performances on May 7th and 8th.
For more information about The Collegiate Chorale, visit