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HATUEY: Memory of Fire

HATUEY: Memory of Fire is a soaring Cuban-Yiddish opera, a love story set in a Havana nightclub in 1931. Oscar, a young Jewish writer who escaped the pogroms in the Ukraine to make a new home in Cuba, falls in love with Tinima, a beautiful singer and passionate revolutionary of Taino descent. As Oscar pens an epic poem about Cuba’s legendary 16th century freedom fighter, Hatuey, Tinima draws him into her fight against the corrupt Machado regime. This vibrant fusion of Afro-Cuban and Yiddish music and culture is also a powerful celebration of freedom performed in English, Yiddish, and Spanish with English supertitles.

In real life, Oscar was Asher Penn. According to The Forward, “In 1931, Yiddish poet, journalist and editor Ascher Penn published Hatuey, a 126-page epic poem about a Taíno chieftain who fought against the Spanish invasion of Cuba at the beginning of the 16th century, and who was eventually burned at the stake in 1512. Born in 1912 in Ukraine, Penn immigrated with his parents to Cuba in 1924 following a pogrom in his native shtetl of Gaysin. In Hatuey, Penn drew on the experience of the pogrom to describe the massacre of Taíno natives by the Spanish, and expressed his admiration for Taíno history and culture. … Indeed, the poem reverberates with sympathy for the Taíno, whose plight Penn understood only too well.”

From Jedediah Wheeler, Peak Performances’ Executive Director: “The first show of the Peak Performances’ season brings to mind the great American song Me & Bobby McGee by Foster and Kristofferson, who wrote the lyric, ‘Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free.’ In Hatuey: Memory of Fire, a young Jewish man escapes the Soviet Union and lands in Havana. He falls in love with a Cuban cabaret chanteuse with a fierce anti-colonial temper. Shattered by the memory of the gruesome attacks in his home village, Oscar identifies her cry for freedom as his own. She tells him of Hatuey, a Taino warrior of the early 16th century who challenged the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba. Hatuey lost his life in a fireball bound to a stake. When his persecutor asked whether he would go to heaven or hell, Hatuey asked, ‘Where will you be?’ ‘I will be in heaven,’ said the conquistador. ‘Then I will go to hell,’ declared Hatuey, forever memorializing his tragic fate. Hatuey is still celebrated as a precursor of Cuba’s ongoing fight for freedom. The real Oscar, Asher Penn, wrote an epic poem about Hatuey to honor Cuba, his new home. That poem inspired this new opera-theater work. Written by Elise Thoron with music by Frank London, Hatuey: Memory of Fire is performed by Cuban, Honduran, Greek, Jewish, and Dominican Americans in Yiddish, Spanish, and English with Afro-Cuban beat.”

HATUEY: Memory of Fire is a Music-Theatre Group production, produced in association with Peak Performances @ Montclair State University.

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