Family letters penned in the Holocaust inspire jazz opera

Ted Rosenthal

Before his father Erich died, Scarsdale resident Ted Rosenthal said he discussed his experience fleeing the Holocaust “very little and only when asked.” He knew his father lost most of his family in Nazi Germany, which he left in 1938 with a fellowship to the University of Chicago.

Twenty years after his father’s death, Rosenthal, now 59, rediscovered a long forgotten box in the attic, containing more than 200 letters written mostly by his grandmother to his father in the late ’30s and early ’40s. The pages became fodder for Rosenthal’s first opera, “Dear Erich,” which will premiere at the Museum of Jewish Heritage and play Jan. 9 through Jan. 13.

Rosenthal, a jazz pianist and composer, has lived in Scarsdale for 16 years. He has performed worldwide as a soloist, with his trio and many major American orchestras. He is now the composer and co-librettist with his wife Lesley of the entirely sung jazz opera “Dear Erich.”

The opera cycles between Erich’s life in Chicago to his family in Germany and the reverberations on Erich’s wife and children. “It was just a very profound and moving experience to learn about this family that I did not really know about,” Rosenthal said.

His grandmother’s letters were written during early Nazi occupation in Germany and dated through November 1941, at which point they abruptly stopped.

In recent years, Rosenthal learned his grandmother was deported to a Nazi death camp nine months after her last letter.

“Dear Erich” presented its second reading at Lincoln Center in January 2018. The staged production is presented by the New York City Opera.

Tickets start at $75 and are available at dearerich.com/#performances or by calling 212-213-2120. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine at the Museum of Jewish Heritage is located at Edmond J. Safra Plaza, 36 Battery Place in Manhattan.

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