How I Rediscovered Di goldene kale (The Golden Bride)

I’ve received all kinds of credit for rediscovering the 1923 Yiddish operetta Di goldene kale by Joseph Rumshinsky, already then the acknowledged leading Yiddish theatre composer, aptly dubbed “the Jewish Victor Herbert.” The operetta was revived countless times in U.S. cities, such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, and even Omaha, Nebraska, and traveled to Buenos Aires, England, and Eastern Europe. It was last performed 25 years after its opening, in 1948 in New York, and from then until recently its performance materials languished in libraries and archives.

As a musicologist, I’d like to tell you that I spent years perfecting my knowledge of Yiddish and studying the field of Yiddish theatre; wrote scholarly papers; then spent more years pawing through materials in musty library storage areas looking for just the right work to revive. Well, the truth is, the work basically fell into my lap.

Farcical, tuneful romance that’s part old-fashioned musical comedy, part straight-up opera, “The Golden Bride” (“Di Goldene Kale”) is an immigrant fantasy that looks as fondly on Mother Russia as on Uncle Sam.

Laura Collins-Hughes, New York Times

In 1984, the Society for American Music was holding its annual meeting in Boston. As head of Harvard’s Loeb Music Library, I decided to mount a major exhibit (for a catalogue, see my “Musical Americana in Harvard Libraries: An Exhibition Honoring the Sonneck Society,” Harvard Library Bulletin 32 [1984]: 408–26). As it happened, the Loeb Music Library owned a piano-vocal score of a work interlingually titled Di Goldene Bride, which I opened to a page and added a translation of the text.

I eventually moved back to New York to become music editor at W. W. Norton, retiring in 2002. Then that operetta started nagging at me, enough to make me take a second look at it 25 years later. I started translating the words that were underlaid to the music. As a native German speaker who also studied Hebrew from an early age, I could pronounce out the words of the Yiddish text and pretty much get the whole meaning.

The further I got into it, the more the music and text spoke to me. A visit to YIVO in New York turned up a libretto and lyrics typed on a Hebrew/Yiddish typewriter. I was privileged to see YIVO’s Yiddish music expert, Chana Mlotek z”l, who was both extremely helpful and fascinated. She put me in touch with her son, Zalmen, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, the century-old Yiddish theater company in the U.S. Over a kosher lunch near Times Square, we discussed the possibility of the Folksbiene’s mounting a production of the work.

I traveled to examine Rumshinsky’s papers and manuscripts at UCLA and obtained copies of both the original lead sheet used by the composer to conduct the show’s first run and a full set of the original orchestral parts. Putting these together with the typed libretto and lyrics, I was able to construct a full score of the entire work. Zalmen pulled together a great cast for a concert performance with piano at CUNY in 2015. That was followed by a performance with orchestra at Rutgers in August 2016 and an Off-Broadway run in December, which earned a New York Times “Critics’ Pick” review and two Drama Desk Award nominations—for outstanding revival of a musical and outstanding director of a musical (the other nominations in both categories were multi-million-dollar Broadway productions).

And now, by popular demand, the operetta will be back for a 48-performance run in New York City, July 4 to August 28, by the NYTF, with nearly the same December cast. Tickets are available here.