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City Opera’s “Jew Number Twelve”

City Opera’s “Jew Number Twelve”

For subscribers to Harper’s, there’s a fantastic essay by Christopher Beha about his stint as a City Opera "super." Read it, a must. Beha, an editor at the magazine, reports on the comical, often infuriating but ultimately riveting experience of being an extra ("super") in the City Opera’s 2009 production of Hugo Weisgall’s "Esther."

I saw that opera, and was a difficult piece to like, full of modernist atonality and an otherwise knotty score. Frankly, I had a much better time reading Beha’s behind-the-scenes account than watching the opera itself.

So how did Beha get to be in the production? He simply showed up for a City Opera "super" casting call. When Beha showed up for one of the extras, or "supers," he was given the role of one of the dozens of silent Jewish characters portrayed in the opera–specifically, "Jew Number Twelve." ("Esther" tells the story of Queen Esther’s protection of the Israelites from the looming murder by the Persians.)

Beha’s deadpan description of his "Jew Number Twelve" role makes the piece a hilarious read on its own. But he also gives a deeper and more touching take on the power opera has had on him since he was eleven, when he saw his first production at the Met. Turns out several of the anonymous supers were motivated by a similar impulse.

You do not have to be an opera lover to identity with the Beha’s story, but if you are, it’ll surely be enhanced. It was for me.

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