The characters in “Fiddler on the Roof” were created at the turn of the 20th century by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem but the actual title is a reference to a wall panel Marc Chagall created for the Moscow State Yiddish Theater in 1920. After he left Russia in 1922, Chagall made a copy for himself called The Green Violinist.
Throughout his life, painter Marc Chagall drew upon his Jewish roots for inspiration. Born in Tsarist Russia in 1887, Chagall derived much of his artistic sensibility from his shtetl childhood. In The Green Violinist, Chagall evoked his homeland. His cultural and religious legacy is illuminated by the figure of the violinist dancing in a rustic village. The Hasidim of Chagall’s childhood believed it possible to achieve communion with God through music and dance, and the fiddler was a vital presence in ceremonies and festivals.
Sholom Aleichem’s pen name is actually a conventional Yiddish greeting meaning “Peace Be with You.” He began his writing career in the early 1880s when Jews in western Russia were coming increasingly under attack and the hateful word “pogrom” became more and common. As a result of the increasingly frequent pogroms and the restrictive laws associated with them, Jews in Western Europe became increasingly dislocated.
The dislocation, which was meant to fragment and destroy Jewish culture, miraculously had the opposite effect. Dislocation caused an increased cultural awakening. Sholom Aleichem became one of the premier Yiddish writers and as Jewish life became more and more fragmented through displacement, he helped unify people through his stories. Chagall’s murals were also part of the renaissance of Yiddish culture after the Russian Revolution.
“Fiddler on the Roof” tells the story of Tevye the Dairyman, whose hold on tradition in the fictional czarist Russian town of Anatevka is tested by the successive marriages of his three oldest daughters. What began as classic Yiddish literature has developed into a universal story about the dissolution of the Old World in the face of modern complexities.
The action opens with a lone fiddler standing on a roof playing a tune, as Tevye tells the audience about the customs of his people: “A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask: ‘Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous?’ Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: tradition!”
Aspen Community Theatre is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a production of “Fiddler On The Roof.” Pat Holloran stars as Tevye, the dairyman. Aaron Poh will play his violin high above the stage on a roof created by set designer Tom Ward.
Performances at the Aspen District Theatre will be held on November 1st – 4th and November 8th – 11th at 7 pm. Matinees are on November 5th and 12th at 2 pm. Tickets prices for adults are $18 for evening performances and $16 for matinees. Children’s tickets (12 and under) are $14 for evenings and $12 for matinees. Tickets can be purchased at The Wheeler Box Office, 920-5770.
– Carol Bayley