This cheerful, lyrical, warm and humorous tale of a bygone era is one of the masterpieces of musical theatre. “Fiddler on the Roof” owes its success to the music and libretto, both of which brilliantly convey the atmosphere and local colour of a small village in tsarist Russia in the early 20th century. Anatevka was inhabited by Jews and Russians, who formed two separate communities. The story of an ordinary Jewish family and its everyday problems serves as a pretext to show the changing world, traditions falling under the burden of new phenomena and the clash between eternal principles of life and the passing of time. The trials and tribulations of history disrupt the peaceful life in the village and the orderly world of Tevye’s family. This is the background for the story of the protagonists and the dramatic fate of Anatevka itself.
The plot of “Fiddler on the Roof,” based on a novel by Sholem Aleichem (“the Mark Twain of Yiddish”), is focused on the poor milkman Tevye, his wife Golde and five daughters. Although Anatevka is poor, life here is peaceful and happy, governed by a harmony with nature and age-old traditions. Three of Tevye’s daughters have already reached the eligible age for marriage, but they reject the offers of the village matchmaker—they want to get married out of love… The milkman has to face the difficult choice of whether to stay true to tradition or allow his children to be happy. His eldest daughter, Tzeitel, catches the eye of the rich butcher and widower Lazar Wolf, but her heart belongs to the poor tailor Motel. Hudel falls in love with Perchik, a student from Kiev, while the young Chava is smitten with the Russian Fyedka. Soon, history catches up with our protagonists: Perchik wants to leave Anatevka to join the brewing revolution, while the local police receive an order to throw all Jews out of the village.
Almost exactly fifty years after the musical’s premiere in New York’s Imperial Theatre and more than forty years from Norman Jewison’s cult movie adaptation, the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic—European Art Centre in Białystok prepared its own production to mark the second anniversary of moving to a new seat. The Białystok production of “Fiddler on the Roof” revives the atmosphere of an early 20th-century shtetl, yet in a new, original take. The mythical Anatevka is no longer just a distant, sentimental land: this idealized town is deeply rooted in our reality, as a result of which the show turns into a lyrical, yet poignantly contemporary morality play. Fantastic acting, picturesque set design, charming group scenes, unique dramatic power, suggestive stage solutions and—most importantly—amazing, memorable music further testify to the production’s high artistic level.
World premiere: 22 IX 1964, Imperial Theatre, Broadway, New York
Premiere: 28 IX 2014