Q&A: Ashkenaz Festival | Lilith, The Night Demon in One Lewd Act

Yiddish opera singer Anthony Russell talks about his role in Veretski Pass's edgy new folk opera at the Ashkenaz Festival

Anthony Russell

The Ashkenaz Festival, North America's premier festival of international Jewish music and culture, returns to Toronto this week (Aug 26 - Sept 1) at the Harbourfront Centre. Featuring artists from across the globe, the festival's programming includes music, film, theatre, cabaret, dance, literature, panel discussions, crafts and visual artswith the majority of events offered free to the public.

Here, we chat with Yiddish opera singer Anthony Russell about his performance in Veretski Pass‘s newest project Lilith, The Night Demon in One Lewd Act, a chamber folk opera that tells the story of Adam’s first wife, in an adult alternate story of creation.

Theatromania: Tell us about Lilith, The Night Demon in One Lewd Act. What inspired this show?

AR: For me, what I experience Lilith being inspired by is an excessively rich history of Jewish folklore, superstition, midrash and cosmology that doesn't get much play in more normative Jewish spaces, such as the synagogue. Its implications stretch beyond the realms of our sub/urban Jewish lives to a strange, primeval place where our founding narratives were still being enacted.

Theatromania: How would you describe the performance in a few sentences?

AR: A curious admixture of a 17th-century opera-suite (like Purcell's Dido and Aeneas), contrasted with a sharply-colored traditional Purimshpil in which the heroine is not Esther, but perhaps her progenitor in the ways of female persuasion, Lilith. (Purimshpil means Purim Play in Yiddish. Purim is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the defeat of Haman's plot to massacre the Jews as recorded in the book of Esther).

Theatromania: What is the most challenging aspect of staging this piece?

AR: Performing a character whose emotional arc is limited (first libido, and in the face of his rejection, anger) but whose music has a very specific and, at times, complicated musical language. Oh, and to not get too entertained by the show that I forget to make my entrances.

Theatromania: What do you hope audiences take away from this experience?

AR: A concept of how this strange and arresting trip through ancient Jewish narratives of creation—and various kinds of brilliantly interpreted folk music—still have a curious charge to its listeners even today.

See Anthony Russell in Lilith, The Night Demon in One Lewd Act on Monday, September 1 at 6pm (Harbourfront Centre Theatre). Visit ashkenazfestival.com for more information and to buy tickets.

Show Dates: 
Tue, 2014-08-26 - Mon, 2014-09-01


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