In three acts by ANTON RUBINSTEIN.
Text by MOSENTHAL, taken from Otto Ludwig's drama of the same name.
This opera when it appeared, created a great sensation in the musical
world. In it the eminent pianist and composer has achieved a splendid
success. The music belongs to the noblest and best and is in most
masterly fashion adapted to the Jewish character. Ludwig and
Mosenthal, both names of renown in Germany, have given a libretto
worthy of the music.
The hero is the famous warrior of the Old Testament. The scene takes
place 160 years before Christ, partly at Modin, a city in the mountains
of Judah and partly in Jerusalem and its environs.
The first act shows Leah with three of her sons, Eleazar, Joarim and
Benjamin. Eleazar is envious of Judah, the eldest son, whose courage
and strength are on everybody's lips, but his mother consoles him by a
prophesy, that Eleazar shall one day be High-priest and King of the
The fete of the sheep-shearing is being celebrated, and Noemi, Judah's
wife, approaches Leah with garlands of flowers, asking for her
benediction. But she is repulsed by her mother-in-law, who is too
proud to recognize the low-born maid as her equal, and slights her son
Judah for his love. She tries to incite him into rebellion against the
Syrians, when Jojakim, a priest appears. He announces the death
of Osias, High-priest of Zion and calls one of Leah's sons to the
important office.--As Judah feels no vocation for such a burden,
Eleazar, his mother's favorite is chosen, and so Leah sees her dream
already fulfilled. They are about to depart, when the approaching army
of the Syrians is announced. Terror seizes the people, as Gorgias, the
leader of the enemy marches up with his soldiers and loudly proclaims,
that the Jews are to erect an altar to Pallas Athene, to whom they must
pray henceforth. Leah seeks to inflame Eleazar's spirit, but his
courage fails him. The altar is soon erected, and as Gorgias sternly
orders that sacrifices are to be offered to the goddess, Boas, Noemi's
father is found willing to bow to the enemy's commands. But the
measure is full, Judah steps forth and striking Boas, the traitor to
their faith, dead, loudly praises Jehova. He calls his people to arms,
and repulses the Syrians and Leah, recognizing her son's greatness,
gives him her benediction.
The second act represents a deep ravine near Emaus; the enemy is beaten
and Judah is resolved to drive him from Zion's walls, but Jojakim warns
him not to profane the coming Sabbath.
Judah tries to overrule the priests and to excite the people, but he is
not heard, and the enemy is able to kill the psalm-singing soldiers
The next scene shows us Eleazar with Cleopatra, daughter of King
Antiochus of Syria.
They love each other, and Eleazar consents to forsake his religion for
her, while she promises to make him King of Jerusalem.
In the next scene Leah in the city of Modin is greeted with
acclamations of joy, when Simei, a relative of the slain Boas appears
to bewail Judah's defeat: Other fugitives coming up, confirm his
narrative of the massacre.--Leah hears that Judah fled and that
Antiochus approaches conducted by her own son Eleazar. She curses the
apostate.--She has still two younger sons, but the Israelites take them
from her to give as hostages to the King Antiochus. Leah is bound to a
cypress-tree by her own people, who attribute their misfortunes to her
and to her sons. Only Noemi, the despised daughter-in-law remains to
liberate the miserable mother, and together they resolve to ask the
tyrant's pardon for the sons.
In the third act we find Judah, alone and unrecognized in the deserted
streets of Jerusalem. Hearing the prayers of the people that Judah may
be sent to them, he steps forth and tells them who he is, and all sink
at his feet, swearing to fight with him to the death. While Judah
prays to God for a sign of grace, Noemi comes with the dreadful news of
the events at Modin, which still further rouses the anger and courage
of the Israelites. Meanwhile Leah has succeeded in penetrating into
Antiochus' presence to beg the lives of her children from him.
Eleazar, Gorgias and Cleopatra join their prayers to those of the poor
mother, and at last Antiochus consents, and the two boys are led
into the room.
But the King only grants their liberty on condition that they renounce
their faith. They are to be burnt alive, should they abide by their
heresy. The mother's heart is full of agony, but the children's noble
courage prevails. They are prepared to die for their God, but the
unhappy mother is not even allowed to share their death. When Eleazar
sees his brother's firmness, his conscience awakens, and
notwithstanding Cleopatra's entreaties he joins them on their way to
death. The hymns of the youthful martyrs are heard, but with the sound
of their voices there suddenly mingles that of a growing tumult.
Antiochus falls, shot through the heart, and the Israelites rush in,
headed by Judah, putting the Syrians to flight. Leah sees her people's
victory, but the trial has been too great, she sinks back lifeless.
Judah is proclaimed King of Zion, but he humbly bends his head, giving
all glory to the Almighty God.
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