In a kleyn shtibele
In a Little Cottage
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Rumshinsky’s love duet In a kleyn shtibele (In a Small Cottage), with lyrics by Isidore Lillian, was featured in his extravagant three-act operetta Der rebe hot geheysn freylekh zayn (The Rebbe Has Bidden Us to Be Merry), produced at the Kessler Second Avenue Theater during the 1921–22 season. It was written to a book also by Lillian, whose libretto was reworked by Samuel Rosenstein, the production’s director, who also played and sang the role of Benish. The operetta was advertised in the Yiddish press as the “largest and richest operetta [yet],” with “large double chorus, joyous dances, and twenty musical numbers.”
As of this writing, the script has not been located. But the story draws on Hassidic lore and folkways and is set in a Hassidic environment in Europe that includes the rebbe’s court, which intersects with the Gypsy world. It is likely that the character Reb Elimelekh, head of that court, was based loosely on the historical Elimelekh of Lizhensk (1717–87), a popular tzaddik (righteous master) of the third generation of the Hassidic movement in Galicia, who on one plane was known for his asceticism. Unlike some other rabbinical personalities who advocated or were inclined toward asceticism, however, Reb Elimelekh also acknowledged that asceticism was not the exclusive path to the mystical Hassidic goal of tikkun olam—“restitution and repair of the world”—and he is quoted as having said that one tzaddik might reach tikkun through eating and drinking, while another might do so through an ascetic life.
In the operetta, Reb Elimelekh’s son Benish is in love with a young Gypsy woman, Diana, and the two sing of their commitment and future togetherness in In a kleyn shtibele. One needs neither the script nor even a synopsis to know that by the end of the story, Diana will turn out not to be a Gypsy, but—by whatever twist of fate or convoluted hidden or switched identities—a bona fide Jewess.
The cast for Der rebe hot geheysn freylekh zayn was unusually large, filled with many of the greatest Second Avenue celebrities of the day and including Kalman Juvelier, Annie Thomashefsky, Regina Prager, Lazar Fried, Sam Kasten, Muni Weisenfreund (who went on to become the famous actor Paul Muni), and Mathilda St. Claire—in her American debut following her arrival in New York at Rumshinsky’s invitation.