Alyssa Quint focuses on the early years of the modern Yiddish theater, from roughly 1876 to 1883, through the works of one of its best-known and most colorful figures, Avrom Goldfaden. Goldfaden (né Goldenfaden, 1840-1908) was one of the first playwrights to stage a commercially viable Yiddish-language theater, first in Romania and then in Russia. Goldfaden’s work was rapidly disseminated in print and his plays were performed frequently for Jewish audiences. Sholem Aleichem considered him as a forger of a new language that "breathed the European spirit into our old jargon." Quint uses Goldfaden’s theatrical works as a way to understand the social life of Jewish theater in Imperial Russia. Through a study of his libretti, she looks at the experiences of Russian Jewish actors, male and female, to explore connections between culture as artistic production and culture in the sense of broader social structures. Quint explores how Jewish actors who played Goldfaden’s work on stage absorbed the theater into their everyday lives. Goldfaden’s theater gives a rich view into the conduct, ideology, religion, and politics of Jews during an important moment in the history of late Imperial Russia.
Note on Transliteration
The Social Life of Jewish Theater in the Russian Empire: An Introduction
1. Goldfaden, Elite (1876–1883)
2. The Rise of the Yiddish Actor
3. The Rise of the Jewish Audience
4. The Rise of the Jewish Playwright
5. The Rise of the Female Yiddish Actor
6. The Ban, Cultural Momentum, and the Modern Yiddish Theater
Afterword: The Fall and Rise of Avrom Goldfaden
Appendix I: Synopses of Goldfaden's Operettas
Appendix II: The Sorceress
Appendix III: Excerpt from the memoirs of Avrom Fishzon
Imagine a history of the English novel that makes scant reference to Sterne or Austen, a study of American literature that leaves out all mention of Irving or Poe, or an assessment of German Romantic poetry that ignores Heine. That is roughly the state of scholarship in English on the Yiddish theater, which has no major work devoted to Avrom Goldfaden, one of the founders of the professional Yiddish stage. Alyssa Quint’s pathbreaking work is valuable not only for the attention paid to the texts of Goldfaden’s Yiddish work, but for its discussion of how the texts emerged from their milieu and how they, in turn, influenced that world.
Barbara Henry, editor (with Joel Berkowitz) of Inventing the Modern Yiddish Stage: Essays in Drama, Performance, and Show Business
In lively prose and penetrating analysis, Quint turns the fascinating life of Avrom Goldfaden into a multi-dimensional history of the Yiddish theater’s formative years, and a study of the origins of Jewish modernity itself.
Jeffery Veidinger, author of Jewish Public Culture in the Late Russian Empire
Quint arms herself with extensive research, using sources in Yiddish, Russian, and Hebrew, to reassess the late nineteenth-century Russian Jewish experience from the vantage point of the Yiddish theater as it evolved into a thriving cultural institution. She surveys the content of their performances; describes the lives of the actors, writers, and directors; and explores critics’ and audiences’ responses to their productions. The Rise of the Modern Yiddish Theater teems with fascinating information that deepens our understanding of how the professional Yiddish theater coalesced, and the role it played in the social life of the late nineteenth-century Russian Jewish city.
Joel Berkowitz, Professor of Foreign Languages and Literature, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee