Also known as the Play of Daniel, LUDUS DANIELIS is considered a masterpiece, the most beautiful music-drama ever written in the Middle Ages: it has been called a Medieval 'opera'.
Created in France in the end of the 12th century, it revolves around two events of the Biblical story of the Prophet Daniel - the writings on the wall and the lion’s den - told through a vibrant music combining strong rhythms, catchy melodies, lyricism. It has seriousness and wit, pathos and humor.
Musical & general director: Myrna Herzog
Stage director: Niv Hoffman
Lighting: Dania Zemmer
Narrator: Benny Hendel
Eitan Drori (tenor - Daniel)
David Feldman (countertenor - King Belshazzar)
Assaf Benraf (bass - King Darius)
Elam Rotem (baritone - Habakkuk)
Macarena Lopez Lavin (soprano - Queen)
Michal Okon (soprano - Angel)
Benny Hendel (Courtier)
Myrna Herzog (musical transcription, vielle, carillon)
Riki Or (vielle, psaltery, saz)
Nadav Rogel (percussion)
Adi Silberberg (recorders)
Sunita Staneslow (harp)
Our thanks to the Israeli Opera, the Ministry of Culture, Keren Rich, Sinfonietta Beersheva, the French Embassy, the French Institute – and to Sara Piro.
On the programThe Play of Daniel is the most beautiful music-drama of the Middle Ages; it has been called a Medieval Opera. It survives in one single copy, written c. 1230 apparently by young clerics at the Beauvais Cathedral in France.
Any modern presentation of the medieval Play of Daniel is a recreation and translation to modern times of the Beauvais play, even if performed on period instruments. Possibly performed after the Matins Office, the Daniel was inserted in the ritual of the Christian Church, merging with it at its close through the Gregorian hymn Te Deum Laudamus , rather than ending in an independent manner
In order to allow their audience to bond with the story, the authors of Daniel resorted to small additions to the Biblical text, bearing a Christian message (for instance, when the messengers bring Daniel joyfully to King Darius, they sing: let's celebrate… Christmas!). Preparing Daniel for a performance in a Jewish country, I have followed their example, by omitting those text additions, thus allowing the public to bond with the story, exactly as intended. In our version, the prologue/dedication is sung in Hebrew verse (translated by Galia Regev from the original Latin); and the play ends after Daniel is freed from the lion's den; I have substituted the verses which would connect to the Te Deum by a comeback of one of the jolly songs sung earlier in the play, Jubilemus Regi Nostro, this time in its contemporary Carmina Burana version, an ode to the virtues of wine.
I have added also a missing scene: Daniel praying to his God, an act denounced, but never seen in the drama. In our version, Daniel sings a contemporary Sh'ma, which possibly more than any other prayer symbolizes a Jew's bond with his creator.
The monophonic manuscript indicates only pitch, not rhythm, compelling most directors – as myself - to do their own transcription. Having the natural accentuation of the Latin verse as the main guide for rhythm interpretation, I did a new transcription and a modern edition of the manuscript.
The fact that the Play of Daniel was staged in Churches as part of a religious service, with choristers unable to comfortably change costumes, seems to indicate that staging had to be simple, relying on simple stage objects to ignite the audience's imagination. We have taken this as a departing point for our rendition.
We were honored to receive a Christian feed-back, from scholar Max R. Harris (a teacher at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor at Yale University): "I was especially moved by the way a few deft cuts, the addition of Daniel's prayer and the Hebrew narrator, and the decision to stage the play in a theater rather than a church, made the play so strikingly Jewish. As a Christian, steeped in the medieval exegesis practices of the church, I am used to thinking of the Daniel of the play as a figure of Christ. Your production, with minimal changes, removed the traditional Christian overlay and made Daniel once again a poignant figure of faithful, suffering Israel. I found it very moving. The music, of course, was magnificent."
Dr. Myrna Herzog
"The Play of Daniel is a 13th century French liturgical drama amazingly beautiful and agreeable to the ear, from the Biblical Book of Daniel. It was staged by Ensemble PHOENIX under the musical direction of Myrna Herzog and stage direction of Niv Hofman. …excellent performance …impressive staging insights…This is the right way to stage a work of this period, in a way that it speaks to today’s public". Daniel Bloch, Reshet Bet, 12/03/08.
"Vibrant, energetic, invigorating, appealing to the modern audience". Ury Eppstein, Jerusalem Post
"Delightful, a highlight in Jerusalem’s musical life". Pamela Hickman, Go Jerusalem.
"I was especially moved by the way a few deft cuts, the addition of Daniel's prayer and the Hebrew narrator, and the decision to stage the play in a theater rather than a church, made the play so strikingly Jewish. As a Christian, steeped in the medieval exegesis practices of the church, I am used to thinking of the Daniel of the play as a figure of Christ. Your production, with minimal changes, removed the traditional Christian overlay and made Daniel once again a poignant figure of faithful, suffering Israel. I found it very moving. The music, of course, was magnificent." Max R. Harris (scholar, teacher at the University of Virginia and visiting professor at Yale University).