Digital Projects

Making Things Happen: The American Premiere of Darius Milhaud’s Opera “David” (1956)

On February 22, 1956, the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, California, was filled by a crowd of opera-goers, rushing to attend the American premiere of Darius Milhaud’s opera, David.

The French-Jewish composer, Darius Milhaud (Aix-en-Provence, 1892 – Geneva, 1974), wrote David in 1954 as a personal tribute to the State of Israel for the 3000th anniversary of King David’s founding of Jerusalem. First performed in Jerusalem, David was staged at La Scala, in Milan (Italy) in 1955. California was the natural destination of this opera, given that Darius Milhaud had been on the faculty of Mills College, in Oakland, since 1940.

The American premiere of David was made possible by the work of the “Festival of Faith and Freedom Committee” of the American Association for Jewish Education, directed by Seymour Fromer. Seymour Fromer and his wife, Rebecca, later moved to the San Francisco Bay Area, where they founded the Judah L. Magnes Museum in 1962.

In 1970, the archive of the Western Jewish History Center at the Magnes in Berkeley acquired a small collection of primary sources about Milhaud’s opera (Coll. WJHC 1970.002). In 2007, Seymour Fromer donated a new set of papers documenting the activities of the Festival of Faith and Freedom Committee.

The Committee worked relentlessly for over a year. It succeeded in raising the necessary funds and gathered the support of many, in California and beyond, to make the grandiose event possible.

Among the recently acquired documents are letters from musicians, like composer Ernest Bloch, conductor Leopold Stokowski and pianist Arthur Rubinstein; film directors, like Cecil B. deMille and Orson Welles; many prominent figures in the California Jewish community, and even from Pierre Mendes-France, then Prime Minister of France.

More importantly, the documents recently acquired by the Magnes paint the fascinating image of a grandiose production, designed in pure 1950’s “Hollywood style,” which succeeded in bringing Jewish history and culture before a wide and diverse audience.

This Digital Narratives was curated by Francesco Spagnolo, with the assistance of Aaron T. Kornblum.


WJHC 1970.002 AR1


View Magnes Collection Database Record

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