By James Foritano
Waltham, MA – Presented by the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (BPT) and produced by Boston University and Brandeis University, The Rosenbergs (An Opera) is moving to its Brandeis University venue this Thursday, April 26, to run through its final matinee performance on April 29.
Nearly every American knows, if only vaguely, of the controversial trial in 1951 and execution in June 1953 of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for conspiracy to commit espionage by transferring atomic secrets from Los Alamos to Russia in the last half of the 1940’s, just after World War 11.
Only a few Americans have seen the North American premiere of this Danish opera performed by the Boston Playwright’s Theatre just last weekend.
An opera of a controversial trial for conspiracy in atomic secrets moves these fraught actions and their actors from the stage of reality to that of art, from the world of controversial “facts” to the world of imagination, from sober prose to lyric song.
One can almost hear the prosecution of that distant “cold war” trial crying from a cold, uneasy grave: “Foul! Foul!”
Singers Christie Lee Gibson and Brian Church portray Ethel and Julius Rosenberg on the stage at the Boston Playwrights Theatre and soon on the Brandeis campus. Impeccably credentialed and in fine voice, their “argument” of two young people in love with each other and their common ideal of one world united in its aspiration for universal peace brooks no counter argument of pale “fact.”
Their trial, after all, took place in an era when the whole world believed in the ideals of equality and international peace with passion enough to come together to form the United Nations on Oct. 24 in 1945 in San Francisco. Interpreted in the light of history, Julius and Ethel could be looked upon as “citizen diplomats” intent on spreading an equality of knowledge to every actor intent on combining into one entity governed by the will to peace, instead of factious tribalism.
This opera is based on the Rosenberg’s letters from prison which are held in the Boston University archives and alchemized into song by librettist Rhea Leman with music by Joachim Holbek, performed live by a trio of Daniel Padgett on piano, Miriam Eckelhoefer on cello and Abigale Reisman on violin.
The production at the Boston Playwrights Theatre was tight and powerful. It’s a limited space for an opera and musical trio, both in full voice, but what put us on the edge of our seats was not mainly the space, but more the tension and lyric power.
Whatever the prosecution might think, this reviewer feels, after seeing this production, that the defense is fully warranted in calling for another venue, that of art, of the stage, on which to “re-try” the Rosenbergs.
You be the judge.
(“The Rosenbergs” continues this Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Most remaining performances are full. However, there will be a wait list at the Box Office before each performance for unclaimed tickets. The wait list is for those present in the lobby prior to performance time only. The Box Office opens one hour prior to curtain time. The Rosenbergs will also be presented at Brandeis University on April 27, 28 and 29. For tickets, visit: go.brandeis.edu/productions.)