INFORMATION ON "FOWL PLAY"
(Opera by Jacobo Kaufmann and Raymond Goldstein)
This opera is inspired on Bernard Malamud's short story "The Jewbird". Exclusive permission was granted for the writing of this opera. Several scenes and characters are
not to be found in the original story.
Simple, almost empty. Only essential elements, allowing for quick and easy changes. A table, chairs, etc. larger than normally. All characters wear masks.
Kohn: 45 years old. Fat. Much hair on his chest. He dresses sloppily. Bass.
Edi: Kohn's wife. 37 years old. Thin. She wears yellow shorts and a red sweater.
Soprano or Mezzo.
Mori: Their child. 11 years old. A small, thin boy, not too clever. Young
Schwartz: Ageless. Looks like an old black bird, losing feathers. Character
tenor or light baritone.
Inspector: Has the head of a white dove. Dresses impeccably. Tenor or light
Cat: A mean looking back-alley cat. Mezzo or baritone.
Orchestra: Piano, flute, clarinet, bassoon, double bass, percussion.
1) Short musical prelude.
2) Act One - Scene One.
A Summer night. The Kohns are having dinner, after a difficult day, with many unpleasant events. Suddenly a black bird enters through the window, and lands on the food, in the middle of the table. It turns out that he can speak, and he claims to be Jewish. In order to prove his identity Schwartz says a very special "Kaddish". He tells the Kohns that he is being persecuted and asks them for sanctuary. Kohn is not all too willing, but Edi and Mori convince him. Edi brings Schwartz some food. Mori falls in love with the bird at first sight. Kohn agrees to let him stay that night and sleep on the balcony, provided he leaves the following morning. At the end of the scene Kohn falls asleep on his armchair. The lights fade out and...
3) Scene Two.
Dream atmosphere. Strange light. This is Kohn's nightmare. Suddenly appears the Inspector accusing Kohn of illegaly hiding a Jewish bird. He searches the house, flirts with Edi and humiliates Kohn. During a discussion Kohn proudly reveals to the Inspector, that he himself was once a bird, at a time when everybody could fly. They fight in a manner reminding us of the struggle between Jacob and the Angel. Kohn defeats the Inspector, but he bites Kohn on his heel, advising him never to trust a dove.
4) Act Two - Scene One.
The following morning. It seems to be a holiday. The sun is shining and the room looks nice and pleasant. Kohn wants to send Schwartz away. Mori protects him, and Edi claims that Schwartz does not disturb and won't cause any trouble. She suggests that Schwartz should reside in a cage on the balcony. Kohn agrees against his will. He declares that if Schwartz makes only one mistake, he will kick him out. Schwartz comes in, and asks for normal food, because he is unable to swallow bird food. Kohn is irritated. He and Edi sing a song about the difficult times they went through once. They get carried away. They dance and clap hands very noisily, frightening Schwartz.
Schwartz stays alone. He is still trembling. Tries to get up, spreads his wings. Is he crying? Approaches the cage.Enters. Takes a corncob. Exits cage. Spits. Thinks. Eats corncob. Enters cage. Extinguishes the light. Goes to sleep.
6) Scene Two.
Several months later. A winter afternoon. Kohn's sitting room. The cage is visible on the balcony. Kohn wants to throw Schwartz out, without any particular reason. He simply hates birds. Edi suggests that Schwartz should stay, because he helps Mori with his school homework. Mori comes home with excellent marks, thanks to Schwartz. Kohn invites Schwartz to have a drink with him. Kohn plans to send Mori to the university. Schwartz does not think it is a good idea. Kohn gets angry. He tells Schwartz that he stinks, and Schwartz explains him that this is because of the herring he receives constantly. During their argument, Kohn becomes very depressed. His head aches. Schwartz sings for him, like young David sang for King Saul. Kohn feels better. He wonders why he hates Schwartz.
7) Act Three - Interlude.
Schwartz philosophizes about his life. He knows that his life is in danger in Kohn's house, but decides to stay, hoping naively that everything will turn out for the best.
8) Scene One.
Kohn tries to convince Schwartz to leave , because all other birds wander. Schwartz explains that he can't easily leave a place he has become accustomed to. Kohn brings in a cat, and mixes Schwartz's food with cat food. He leaves them alone and the cat attacks Schwartz. Edi and Mori arrive in time to save his life. Schwartz asks them to get rid of the cat, but Edi refuses on the grounds that Mori loves the cat too.
9) Scene Two.
Several months later. A very hot summer afternoon. The Kohns eat again, and Kohn says that he hates birds. Mori reminds him that Schwartz is a bird too, making Kohn swallow a chicken bone. Edi and Mori exit. Kohn is irritated because of the general disorder in the room and Mori's bad marks at school. Schwartz wants to talk to him and Kohn attacks him. They fight. Kohn swirls him around and throws him out of the window. Then he repents. Edi and Mori return. Kohn tells them that Schwartz is no more. Suddenly Schwartz returns fully bandaged. He tells them of his decission not to die, in order not to cause them any problems. He asks for a cup of tea and returns to his cage. The Kohns look on in sheer bewilderment.