Liebestod: Opera Buf­fa with Leib Goldkorn

  • Review
By – July 26, 2012

Leslie Epstein has been described as one of the world’s com­ic genius­es. Indeed, in this out­ra­geous nov­el, as we trav­el along with 104-year-old Leib Gold­ko­rn, in his third lit­er­ary appear­ance, it proves true.

At the brink of death, Leib, as the old­est liv­ing Holo­caust sur­vivor, gets invit­ed back to his home town, in the now Czech Repub­lic. As their hon­orary Jew he is there for the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al Fes­tiv­i­ty. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of these words sets the scene for the almost unbe­liev­able jour­ney. Bal­anc­ing both humor and hor­ror, the sto­ry teas­es even the most adven­tur­ous imag­i­na­tions. It is hilar­i­ous in style, lan­guage, cir­cum­stance, and play­ers, and yet there is the ever- present shad­ow of the bru­tal­i­ty of the Holo­caust as well as cur­rent, hor­rif­ic acts of polit­i­cal violence.

Cen­tral to the plot is Leib’s dis­cov­ery, while in his town of Jihla­va, of his true father, Gus­tav Mahler. At the same time he mirac­u­lous­ly comes upon the only opera Mahler ever wrote: Rubezahl. A learned musi­cian him­self, Leib is deter­mined to trans­late and stage a pro­duc­tion of this work at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera, star­ring, by the way, a cast of world famous singers, includ­ing one par­tic­u­lar diva of renown and, of course, the rag-tag gang of long lost cousins he found in Europe. This old folk­tale, retold, is opera buf­fa in every musi­cal sense, but, alas, the com­e­dy turns to mad­ness on the eve of the open­ing performance.

Leib Gold­ko­rn is a cel­e­bra­tion of life! Feisty, sexy, and resilient, he is a char­ac­ter to remem­ber, as is the tale he shares with us.

Pen­ny Metsch, MLS, for­mer­ly a school librar­i­an on Long Island and in New York City, now focus­es on ear­ly lit­er­a­cy pro­grams in Hobo­ken, NJ.

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