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Finding Eleazar (Unrated)

Release Date: September 16th, 2005 (NYC-Quad Cinema) by Millenial Arts.
Directed by Paula Heil Fisher.

BASIC PREMISE: A behind-the-scenes documentary about the revival of the opera "La Juive" (The Jewess) with Neil Shicoff as Eleazar, the protagonist.

ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: The opera "La Juive" was originally banned by the Nazis in 1936. It is very exciting to watch the crew at Millenial Arts brainstorm ideas for the revival and then put them into action. The late night meeting to discuss ideas ends up an argument over whether the opera should be modernized to fit today's world. That idea is nullifies almost immediately. The opera's story is so provocative and significant that changing the time period seems simply wrong. The basic story is that Eleazar, a fanatical Jew, is forced to either covert to Christianity or else his adopted daughter will be persecuted. All the technical preparations are somewhat interesting to watch, but not as engaging as watching Niel Shicoff rehearse for his role as Eleazar. In his mid 50's, Neil has the energy and anxiety of a teenager before a high school performance. He is very capable of showing off his talent for singing, but his nervousness tends to take over. For example, he often goes to a doctor to make sure his vocal cords are healthy. It is funny when his doctor says that Neil has better knowledge of vocal cords than the average physician. He is under a lot of pressure before opening night: his worst nightmare is showing up late, so he always gets there extra early. The opera itself is very magnificent--especially the decadent opera house where it is performed at. Although the entire opera is not shown in its entirety, Neil's beautiful singing is so full of passion that it makes you want to get up and buy a ticket to watch it from beginning to end---only if you're an opera fan, of course.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The story of "La Juive" is raises very important and timely issues about intolerance, racism, and fanaticism. Neil asks a very thought-provoking question about the difference between Eleazar versus a suicide-bomber. Both are very fanatical. The simple difference is that the suicide bomber kills other people. Like many operas, this one has an emotional impact but it also manages to be very haunting. If you just open the television today to look at the news, there is plenty of racial violence and intolerance. The fact that Neil actually believes in only one universal God uniting all the religions shows how different he is from Eleazar--and how far he has to stretch to become him for the duration of the opera.



THE BOTTOM LINE: A very compelling documentary about the revival of a very timely, thought-provoking opera. Neil is clearly a very talented opera singer. This film does a very good job of showing how nervous, thoughtful, and lively he is behind-the-scenes.

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Opera fans: Movie Theater (1st Run)

Everyone else: VHS/DVD

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