The Schmooze

Old Jewish Divas and Some Casting Advice for Dustin Hoffman

Yesterday’s announcement that 43 years after playing a quintessentially confused Jewish college graduate, Dustin Hoffman plans to make his directorial debut, may raise some eyebrows. Hoffman has chosen to adapt “Quartet,” a 1999 play by Cape Town-born Jewish playwright Ronald Harwood (né Horwitz).

In the bittersweet “Quartet,” ancient opera singers in a retirement home lip synch to an old recording to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Inspired by the unforgettable 1984 documentary “Tosca’s Kiss,” available on DVD from EMI Classics, “Quartet,” Harwood told one interviewer, is “about old age, and triumphing over it. One of the characters in the play says, ‘We’re artists, aren’t we, we’re supposed to celebrate life.’”

All the more reason to note that this Jewish playwright and Jewish director are casting their film with superb actors like Maggie Smith and Albert Finney, both without an iota of Yiddishkeit. Yet venerable Jewish opera performers are not only still vigorous and vehement, but performance-ready. 87-year-old mezzo Regina Resnik has just been honored by a new CD reprint, part of a valuable series of reissues from Arkivmusic.com. Resnik, like many old-time Jewish divas, fiercely incarnates what might be called the “apotheosis of the schrei.”

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Old Jewish Divas and Some Casting Advice for Dustin Hoffman

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