Huttner Lectures


Tzivi Huttner

Matchmaker, Matchmaker:

From Boiberik to Broadway

presented by Jan Lisa Huttner

When: Tuesday, August 10 at 12:15 PM

Where: Wilmette Public Library

“Instant Replay” (co-sponsored by ORT):

6:30 PM in the Loop

Harold Washington Library Center

(7th Floor Chicago Authors Room)

Sholem Aleichem lovers know there’s no one named “Yente the Matchmaker” in his Tevye stories.  So who is Yente, & why is she such an important character in Fiddler on the Roof?

This is Jan’s second presentation on Fiddler on the Roof.  The first one, called Stempenyu: From Berdichev to Broadway, is available as a podcast on the JUF News website.

This year’s presentation will include Sholem Aleichem’s descriptions of “Ephraim the Matchmaker”–the character in the Tevye stories who Yente replaced.  Once again, leyenkrayz member Elisa Steinberg will read selected passages from Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish.  Click here for handout –> 10Aug10Handout

Chicago YIVO Board member Jan Lisa Huttner is the author of the “Tzivi’s Spotlight” columns which appear every month in Chicago’s JUF News.

Molly Picon as “Yente the Matchmaker” in Norman Jewison’s 1971 film adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof. Seen here with Norma Crane (left) as “Golde.” Photo Credit: NewsCom

10 Responses to “Huttner Lectures”

  1. Carol Cann Says:

    Jan’s lecture at the Wilmette Public Library was an informative look at one of the classic plays of the 20th Century. The Yiddish version of “Fiddler” alone would have been worth the price of admission, if there had been one. Great fun!

  2. Linda Grossman Says:

    I like the topic and speaker, so I went to HWLC. I did think the talk needed to be focused a bit more. There really wasn’t a unifying theme to the talk. But there was a lot of information, so I was happy.

  3. Sandra Bass Says:

    I am familiar with the speaker’s online writings. I thought the topic would be of interest so I went to the lecture at HWLC. I am not as well-versed in “Fiddler’ material as the speaker or a number of people in the audience. I found the lecture as well as questions from the audience filled in a gap in my knowledge. I look forward to the ‘Fiddler’ book that Ms. Huttner is working on and mentioned in her lecture.

  4. Jack Palka Says:

    I found the lecture at HWLC to be enchanting and informative. Full of fresh anecdotes and insights I had not thought of. It was also accessible to those who are well versed in things musical-theater, but not so much in the Yiddish culture (like me!). Good job.

  5. Bonnie Kustner Says:

    Fiddler, it seems, has touched all of our lives, and Jan’s lecture happily reached out to each one of us in the audience. For some, it was hearing the original Yiddish, for others, it was discovering the background of Yente’s character. For everyone, it was simply the remembered joy of a great musical.

    Jan’s topic has a Yiddish background with a modern day twist. From Ehphriam to Yente, the role of the matchmaker was explored and those in the audience responded. Far from being a dusty old concept, bound in tradition, Jan showed how the role of the matchmaker still resonates with parents and families, men and women, old and young. It’s a topic of the times, for our times.

    Nice job, Miss Jan!

  6. Elisa Shoenberger Says:

    The lecture at HWLC was lovely. I had never really considered the differences between productions of anything, much less Fiddler on the Roof. I really liked how Jan dissected the various adaptations despite my general unfamilarity with the show. I am now keen on seeing more productions.

    I think that the major suggestion would be to expand on the conclusion. What does it mean to silence Yente? What does it say about the work entirely? Outlining the meaning of this major change in the movie would be the icing on the lecture.

  7. jlhyivo Says:

    From a WPL audience member (posted from eMail to Jan):

    I am unclear as to the main point of your presentation was. You gave the history of the various Fiddler productions, talked about the change from the Ephraim to the Yente character, how that character changed from broadway to hollywood but you didn’t tell us how the character was created in the first place, which seemed a pretty important piece of the story.

    I did ask that question at the end and you said it was Jerome Robbins who was responsible. I would have liked to hear more about that, if any information is available. I really think your insights are more valuable to the audience than anecdotes.

    You said Rebecca Finnegan [at Marriott Lincolnshire] was the best Yente but you didn’t say why! Your comments about the physical differences between Bea Arthur and Molly Picon were great; I guess that’s what I want more of!

    I’m sure you will be doing this for a long time, as it’s such a fascinating topic, so you are wise to gain experience and practice in smaller venues. Of course the bigger ones will have better AV equipment!

    Good luck with your book and since this is the first day of Elul, a good New Year!

    • jlhyivo Says:

      Feedback much appreciated, R.

      Your question about Jerome Robbins is a fascinating one. Few clues are provided in any of the voluminous bios on my shelf, & I have not had time/money/opportunity yet to see if he left unpublished papers that give specific answers…

      But let me add this: I have now done almost a decades’ worth of interviews with many amazing artists in all media & one thing I’ve learned from them is that they can’t always give answers. Sometime I ask a question & the answer is: It just felt right. Sometime I offer an interpretation & the response is: Ya know, I never thought of that, but I love it.

      So I’ve decided to treat Fiddler as if it were Hamlet: all honest, coherent attempts at analysis can only advance the dialogue. If, in the end, I’m only 50% “right” in my interpretation, that’s 50% “more” than was there before, & maybe in years to come, others will build on what I’ve done & do better.

      For now, I feel my primary obligation is to help people understand that Fiddler is “a many splendored thing.” In some cases, yes, sentimental & nostalgic, but in other cases the exact opposite. And why do I consider Rebecca Finnegan’s Yente the best Yente I’ve ever seen? Because she came closest to the performance I believe Jerome Robbins intended!

      That’s MY interpretation & I’m sticking to it… at least for now 🙂

      L’Shannah Tovah,

  8. jlhyivo Says:

    From an ORT Member re HWLC (posted from eMail to Jan):

    I would have liked the talk to have been more focused, to have a thesis of some sort. Though this is no reflection on your forthcoming book, I was led to believe it was a talk on the women in the play, which I would have found interesting from a feminist, historical or psychological view, rather than what they wore, for instance. There was a tiny bit of that.

    I’m sure no one else is writing on the history/source/myth of the play as you are so it fills a hole. Your passion for this work comes through. I’m also a film buff, my interest in film noir mainly. So with your talk I go from dark to light.

    • jlhyivo Says:

      Reply from Jan: Believe me, S, I take this comment VERY seriously!

      What I intended to say (but obviously didn’t), is that costumes are not “fashion” per se, but theatrical tools used by a director to subliminally define character in all its historical & psychological complexity.

      In the film, Yente’s costumes depict her as a poor old widow, but on stage, Yente’s costumes depict her as one of the richest women in town –> a successful businesswoman. From my POV, this makes choice of Yente’s costume a very feminist issue indeed!

      Writers live in their own heads, often thinking they’ve actually said things they may only have thought. So we need really, really need people to say: “OK, I get one & one, now please add them up because I’m not getting two.”

      Thanks so much for sending your message 🙂

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