Alan Dershowitz’s Musical Endeavors

By Marissa Brostoff

Published January 30, 2008, issue of February 01, 2008.
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Alan Dershowitz may have finally found a vocation that allows him to make more noise than he does as a celebrity lawyer, professor at Harvard Law School and prolific author. His new calling? Opera.

“This is my current retirement project,” Dershowitz told The Shmooze. “It’s the only one without a deadline except the one God and nature has imposed on my longevity.”

Dershowitz’s opera-in-the-making tells the story of Gershon Sirota, a world-famous cantor who was nicknamed “the Jewish Caruso” after the great tenor Enrico Caruso. Sirota’s star rose in Odessa and then, in the early 20th century, in Warsaw. The cantor died in the Warsaw Ghetto, a tragedy that Dershowitz plans to dramatize.

“In the first act, I establish who he is, his great influence,” Dershowitz said. “At the end of the first act, the Nazis occupy Warsaw. In the second act, he learns that he has an opportunity to go to America with his family. The crux of the opera is his decision whether or not to leave Warsaw. He decides to remain, and is murdered along with his whole family.”

Dershowitz is not without musical experience — he was a choirboy growing up in Brooklyn’s Boro Park at Temple Beth El, and at one point he dreamed of becoming a cantor — but he readily admits the limitations of his prowess. He is writing the libretto for the opera and picking out melodies on the piano, and down the road he plans to get help from more seasoned musicians.

“But even Gershwin needed an arranger,” he said, adding that his musical idol’s original last name was Gershowitz, and that g’s and d’s occasionally get mixed up.

Dershowitz mentioned that he envisions Samuel Helfgott, the cantorial superstar of Park East Synagogue in Brooklyn, in the role of Sirota.
“I’m a Helfgott groupie,” he said.

Asked how he felt about the offer, Helfgott, who had not heard about Dershowitz’s project, responded with great enthusiasm. Helfgott has spoken to the Metropolitan Opera more than once about the possibility of a crossover performance, but the problem of Sabbath observance has thus far nipped such plans in the bud.

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