Shulamis, oder, bas yerusholayim

[Shulamis, or, The Daughter of Jerusalem]


Act I. Jews with packs on their backs and sticks in their hands, on a pilgrimage from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, sing about the journey. Manoyekh, an old shepherd, sends his daughter Shulamis home to tend the flock, and moves on with the group. Shulamis gets lost, and grows desperately thirsty. She sees a well, but the bucket is missing, so she ties the rope around herself and descends. An Arab melody is heard, and Avisholem appears in military dress, accompanied by his wild servant Tsingitang. Avisholem sends Tsingitang to fetch food, goes to the well for a drink, hears Shulamis, and rescues her. They praise God for arranging this encounter and swear their eternal love for each other. They sing their vow (“Di shvue”), invoking the well and a wildcat as witnesses. Tsingitang returns, and searches for a girl for himself in the well. He will bring Shulamis home, for Avisholem is expected in Jerusalem for Sukkot, and will return to Shulamis later.

Act II. Two months later, in Jerusalem. Avisholem, his friend Khananye, and Tsingitang, with other men, among a group of women. Foremost among the latter is Avigayil, crowned with pearls. Avisholem and Khananye both have their hearts set on Avigayil. During a dance to select mates, Tsingitang ambushes Khananye so Avisholem can reach her first. Duet between Avisholem and Avigayil, followed by Tsingitang’s comic imitation. The High Priest comes, the young men seat Avisholem on a chair, and the girls do the same to Avigayil. The High Priest blesses them, and the crowd rejoices.

Act III. Two years later, on a mountain near Bethlehem. A distracted Shulamis sings of her love, comparing it to a synagogue in which she is the only congregant. In a long soliloquy: she goes over the possible things that might have kept Avisholem from her, and concludes that she will feign madness to avoid having to marry anyone else. Scene change to a room at Manoyekh’s, where suitors pester him about Shulamis. Enter Yoav Gidoyni, dressed in military uniform, who sings of his triumphs and asks for Shulamis’ hand. His song is echoed by the tycoon Avinadav, and then by Nosn Ha-koyen, who sing of their respective assets. Manoyekh has them draw lots, and Gidoyni wins. He gloats until Shulamis’ voice is heard outside. Her father introduces her to Gidoyni. She congratulates her father, then dances and sings madly, echoing her vow to Avisholem, and cries on her father’s shoulder. She sings obliquely of her loss, and mocks Gidoyni and Nosn. Manoyekh repeatedly asks what happened; each time, she tells him to “ask the cat” or “ask the well.” Scene change to the beautiful home of Avisholem and Avigayil. They are quite happy, for though a cat stole their first-born from its cradle and killed it exactly a year ago today, they have had an even healthier, lovelier baby in the meantime. They send Tsingitang for the baby, and Avisholem laughingly recalls how he tricked Khananye out of winning Avigayil. This memory is interrupted by the wail of Tsingitang. The nurse says that as she was standing by the well, the baby jumped out of her arms to its death. The “Shvue” melody plays quietly, and the wall opens, revealing a tableau: moonlight, Shulamis by the well, the cat nearby. An angel above them points to the tableau; once Avisholem recognizes Shulamis, the wall closes. He takes this as a sign from God, and prepares to meet his judgment. He tells Avigayil that the tragedies have happened because he forsook his predestined match, and decides to atone to Shulamis. Avigayil doesn’t want him to go, but when he is about to stab himself, she stops him and sends him on his way with her blessing. The scene returns to the mountain near Bethlehem, where shepherds sit around a fire is burning singing about shepherds’ (and metaphorically, God’s) vigilant care for their flocks. Avisholem and Tsingitang enter. The shepherds tell Avisholem of Shulamis’ madness; he trembles and cries, and says he can cure her. They invite the travelers to rest overnight, and the shepherds sing, “Flicker, little flame.”

Act IV. Manoyekh’s house; Shulamis lies ill on the couch. Doctors stand around uselessly. Avisholem comes to the window but hesitates to enter. Shulamis sings the “Shvue” theme, and he answers, enters, and swears to be hers forever. As they embrace, Manoyekh enters; Avisholem says he can cure her, and sings “Di Shvue” with her. Manoyekh gives them his blessing. Scene change to the Temple in Jerusalem. The curtain rises, revealing the Temple in all its glory, with Jews, led by the Kohen, offering sacrifices to God as they sing his praises. Enter Manoyekh with Avisholem and Shulamis, who kneel before the High Priest. He blesses them, and the chorus sings praises to God.