The Eternal Road

The Eternal Road is an opera-oratorio with spoken dialogue in four acts by Kurt Weill with a libretto (originally in German: Der Weg der VerheissungThe Way of the Covenant), by Austrian novelist and playwright Franz Werfel and translated into English by Ludwig Lewisohn.

The Eternal Road premiered at the Manhattan Opera House on January 7, 1937, given a lavish and spectacular production involving 245 actors, and ran for 153 performances. Although it received good reviews, it was not revived for 63 years.

The piece was conceived by Zionist activist Meyer Weisgal to alert the then-ignorant public to Hitler's persecution of the Jews in 1937 Germany. Weisgal enlisted the help of director Max Reinhardt, who found Weill to compose the music and Werfel to write the libretto. Set in a synagogue where Jews hide all night as a pogrom rages outside, the story combines Biblical and pre-World War II Jewish history. The rabbi reads from the Torah, leading, in each act, to the exploration and re-enactment of a different Biblical theme. At the conclusion, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the deportation of those hiding become one, while the despair of a scattered people is balanced by a messianic voice that speaks of hope for deliverance of the Jews in Zion – (although by 1937 Jews were unable to emigrate from Germany to most countries and were barred from Palestine).[1] The music evokes cantorial lamentations, classical fugues and showtunes, among other styles.[2]

Performance history

After its initial performances, the first revival took place in Chemnitz, Germany, and then at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City during the 1999/2000 season (the 100th anniversary of Weill's birth and the 50th of his death). This was partly because of the six hour running time, even after substantial cuts had been made.[3]

In 1998 David Drew devised a concert adaptation from the fourth act of The Eternal Road, titled Propheten (Prophets); Drew used German text by Franz Werfel and Bible passages. Supplemental orchestration was provided by Noam Sheriff. It was first performed on May 28, 1998, in Vienna with the Österreichische Rundfunkorchester, Dennis Russell Davies conducting. It was subsequently performed at the BBC Proms, who had commissioned the work, in the Royal Albert Hall in July 1998 with Matthias Bamert conducting.[4]


Role Voice type Premiere cast
7 January 1937
(Conductor: Isaac Van Grove)
Rabbi tenor Myron Taylor
The Adversary speaking role Sam Jaffe
The Timid Soul speaking role Mark Schweid
The Rich Man speaking role Anthony Blair
The Estranged One speaking role Harold Johnsrud
The Estranged One's Son tenor Sidney Lumet
President of the Congregation speaking role David A. Leonard
Pious Man speaking role Robert Harrison
Pious Man speaking role Bennett Challis
Pious Man speaking role Cassius C. Quimby
Pious Man speaking role Hal Kingsley
Fanatic Roger de Koven
The Watchman speaking role David Kurian
Boy of the Congregation speaking role Nat L. Mintz
Jesse Herbert Rudley
The Alien Girl speaking role Olive Deering
An Ancient Charles Hale
Abraham baritone Thomas Chalmers
Sarah Bertha Kunz-Baker
Eliezer baritone Carl Formes
The White Angel John Uppman
First Dark Angel Edward Kane
Second Dark Angel Ben Cutler
Jacob tenor Ralph Jameson
Rachel soprano Sarah Osnath-Halevy
Joseph baritone Earl Weatherford
Reuben Robert Warren Bentley
Levi Joseph Macaulay
Zebulon Kurt Kasznar
Dan Carl Formes
Naphtali Edward Fisher
Gad Leonard Mence
Asher Edward Vermonti
The Juggler Florence Meyer
Moses baritone Samuel Goldenberg
Miriam soprano Lotte Lenya
Aaron Noel Cravat
The Adversary's Follower Benjamin Zemach
Ruth mezzo-soprano Katherine Carrington
King Saul baritone Walter Gilbert
Bath-Sheba mezzo-soprano Rosamond Pinchot
Uriah Raymond Miller
Voice of God baritone
Angel of Death bass Joseph Macaulay
Boaz baritone
Isaac treble Dick Van Patten
Reaper baritone
David tenor
Chananjah baritone
Voice of the Angel of the End of Days; Sarah; Isaac; Joseph's Brothers; double chorus, SATB.
Speaking roles: Pious Men, President, Elders, Women, and Boys of the Congregation,
The Estranged One and his son, The Adversary, The Timid Soul, The Rich Man, The Watchman,
The Youth, The Strange Girl, The Witch of Endor, Bath-Sheba, Uriah, Zedekiah, Pashur


  • Brooks Atkinson, The New York Times (January 8, 1937) — After an eternity of postponements The Eternal Road has finally arrived at the Manhattan Opera House, where it opened last evening. Let it be said at once that the ten postponements are understood and forgiven. Out of the heroic stories of old Jewish history Max Reinhardt and his many assistants have evoked a glorious pageant of great power and beauty.[5]


  • Constance Haumann (soprano), Barbara Rearick (mezzo-soprano), Hanna Wollschlaeger (mezzo-soprano), Ian DeNolfo (tenor), Karl Dent (tenor), Val Rideout (tenor), Ted Christopher (baritone), James Maddalena (baritone), Ernst Senff Choir, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Gerard Schwarz (cond.), (excerpts performed in English), Milken Archive/Naxos Records CD 8.559402[6]


  • Amadeus Almanac
  • (1934-36) at the Kurt Weill Foundation
  • Alexander Ringer's "Werfel, Weill, and The Eternal Road" in Driven into Paradise: The Musical Migration from Nazi Germany to the United States ed. Brinkmann & Wolff (UC Press 1999)
  • Rogoff, Gordon, Duke University Press (subscription required)

External links

  • IBDB entry for the 1937 production
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