After 92 years, many of them spent in manuscript form piled on a shelf of the Loeb Music Library at Harvard, Joseph Rumshinsky’s operetta, “Di Goldene Kale” (The Golden Bride), will be brought back to the stage at Rutgers University. As ever, the plot hinges on who gets the girl.
With shades of American ragtime in the original music, Yiddish soap opera and comic dialogue, the hit show spoke knowingly to its immigrant audience, with a nod to its new country. After the February 1923 premiere, it played for 18 weeks in the 2,000-seat Kessler’s Second Avenue Theater.
On Aug. 5, the operetta will be presented in an enhanced concert format, a joint production of the National Yiddish Theater – Folksbiene (NYTF) and the Mason Gross School of the Arts, and performed in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles. This is the first time in 70 years that it will be performed with a full 20-piece orchestra.
“This show was a gem,” musicologist Michael Ochs tells The Jewish Week. The retired head librarian at the Loeb Music Library and a senior lecturer on music, Ochs found the unpublished manuscript 25 years ago while preparing an exhibition for the Society for American Music. He then pieced together the orchestrations, a typescript of the lyrics and the original lead sheet with the vocal parts and melodies (with handwritten notes from the original performance), which were all in different places, including UCLA and YIVO.
“It was like putting together a puzzle where all the pieces fit pretty well,” Ochs says.
The original operetta ran more than three hours, with several encores. The show even included extraneous musical pieces by characters from other Rumshinsky productions. This restored version was scaled back to 90 minutes.
The story involves Golde, abandoned by her parents and raised by innkeepers in Russia. When she unexpectedly inherits her father’s fortune, a long line of suitors appears. She leaves for America, with many shtetl characters following. The second act takes place in a mansion, providing glimpses of the American dream.
Ochs admits that something gets lost in translation, that lines like “Long live my dead father who left me such a great inheritance” are just funnier in Yiddish.
“He knew so well what he was doing,” Ochs says of Rumshinsky, who had a serious music education in Lithuania and spent a year studying in England before coming to the U.S. in 1904.
Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of NYTF, who will conduct the orchestra, says that their next step is to launch a full staged production.
“Besides this show being fun and charming,” Mlotek says, “it’s also socially significant. It gives a real picture of the situation of coming to America, what it meant to assimilate into American cultural life.” This is part of a new NYTF series that presents restorations of Yiddish productions that had been lost and forgotten.
Ochs says there are thousands of unpublished operettas composed between 1880 and 1950. The restored version of “Di Goldene Kale” is to be published by the American Musicological Society.
“I’m almost 80,” he says. “I’m hoping this will be a goad for others to do work on this.”
On Aug. 5, Ochs will present a talk at 6 p.m. — as though it were opening night in 1923 — accompanied by original cast recordings, followed by the performance at 7 at Rutgers’ Mason Gross Performing Arts Center. (The lecture is free for ticket holders.  932-7511.)