THE EXAGOGE (2020)
for Soprano, Tenor, Bass
An Opera-Theater Event on a script by Edward Einhorn
Duration: 90 minutes min.
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Exagoge is an immersive opera-theater event, inspired by a 2nd Century play by Ezekiel the Tragedian, a Hellenistic Jew who wished to portray the legend of the Exodus in a drama inspired by the Greek tragedies. The music is by Avner Finberg and the libretto/play script is by Edward Einhorn.
The production would be a participatory Seder meal. Those audience members who wished to participate most directly would sit around the main set piece, a seder table, on top of which the opera would occur. Meanwhile, around the table, a related drama about the fictional composer, set in the present, frames the opera scenes. Songs from the Passover service will be sung together and ritual foods will be shared, in counterpoint to the opera that would occasionally “erupt” on stage.
Exagoge is the earliest known play on a Jewish theme, and for good reason: Theater was considered a form of pagan idolatry by Jewish law at the time, and it is suspected that most of Ezekiel’s plays were destroyed by the Jewish community. Only small fragments of the original text still exist, so much of the libretto is necessarily imagined, based on scholarship on the original and with an eye to connection to the modern day. We wish to examine the connections between art, religion, and blasphemy, and the ways in which art and ritual both reinforce and threaten tradition.
The opera portion, derived from the original Greek drama, is the story of the Exodus, through the eyes of the playwright Ezekiel. An assimilationist, he emphasized the connection between Jewish and pagan traditions, keeping Tzipporah, Moses’ wife, a pagan, and ending with a deus ex machina involving a phoenix (an Alexandrian pagan symbol of the time). In the theater portion, Zeke, a composer of the interior opera, brings home his non-observant Muslim girlfriend, Aliya, to meet his father, Avraham, a professor of Jewish history. Arguments about respect for religion and tradition, blasphemy and appropriation dominate their conversation. In the end, Aliya comes to feel she has been included as a sort of prop for Zeke’s arguments with his father, and she leaves, her exit contrasting with the happy and triumphant deus ex machina that ends Zeke’s opera.
The overall production is about 90 minutes in length. The cast includes three opera singers (Tenor, Soprano, and Bass), three actors, and a chamber ensemble (string quartet, piano, percussion)
Scheduled for production with La Mama Experimental Theater in NYC in April 2024.
2 male actors, 1 female actor
2 male singers, 1 female singer
EZEKIEL (ZEKE) – The composer/librettist of The Exagoge.
AVRAHAM – his father, a professor of Jewish History
ALIYA – his girlfriend, a librarian and a non-practising Muslim
TZIPPORA (Soprano) – Moses’ wife. Also one of the singers for GOD
PHAROAH, REUEL, MESSENGER, GOD (Baritone)
Note on the set
The main set piece of this show is a large table. The opera scenes will be performed on top of the table. The other scenes, which I’ll call the play, will be performed around the table. The three actors in the play should be sitting alongside audience members who have agreed to participate. Those audience members will be served food, and they will be asked to read from a provided Haggadah and sing along when possible. Some limited food should also be provided to the rest of the audience. The whole production should feel like not just a theatrical event, but a Passover Seder, in which the audience has been invited to participate
The work as a whole examines the idea of art and blasphemy in religious context, as well as cultural assimilation and appropriation.