KPS students participate in long-lost WWII-era operetta about Safe Haven refugeesIn 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the War Refugee Board, tasked with encouraging countries to help refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Believing that the United States should take in some of the refugees to encourage other countries to participate in safe haven efforts, the United States - under Roosevelt’s leadership - would ultimately accept 982 refugees from 18 countries, nearly all of whom were Jewish.
To house these refugees, Roosevelt announced the establishment of an emergency “safe haven” refugee shelter at Fort Ontario in Oswego, on the shores of Lake Ontario.
These refugees feared that as soon as the war was over, they would be forced to return to their homelands in Europe. The vacant army post at Fort Ontario was the only refugee center in the country during World War II.
Lobbying to stay in America, the refugees drafted a petition to the president and Congress. They testified at a congressional hearing and wrote and performed an operetta, “The Golden Cage,” sharing their story.
This long-lost World War II-era operetta has recently been rediscovered and given new life, courtesy of the Oswego Opera Theater and SUNY Oswego.
Four students from our very own Kingsford Park Elementary played an important role in the operetta, participating in a 12-person children’s ensemble.
The score and text of “The Golden Cage” disappeared decades ago. “The Golden Cage” was first performed on New Year’s Eve, 1945, and an abbreviated version in January 1946.
Last weekend, for the first time since 1945, the operetta was performed in front of audiences at SUNY Oswego inside Tyler Hall’s Waterman Theatre.
The nephew of Charles Abeles, the composer of “The Golden Cage,” found the original manuscript locked in a trunk. He sent it over to Marilynn Smiley, the president of the Oswego Opera Theater board and a SUNY Oswego emerita professor of music. She had spent time with another one of Abeles’ nephews when he came to visit the museum in Oswego.
When SUNY Oswego music professor Juan La Manna, artistic director for Oswego Opera Theatre, received the original manuscript, he found sections missing that he had to piece together to create the full piece.
“I compared lyrics with notes that had no lyrics and tried to find what fit,” LaManna said. “For the parts that were missing music but had lyrics, I used themes that he had used before in the operetta and that seemed to fit those words.”
Benjamin Spierman, the other artistic director of Oswego Opera Theater, said the performance added in other elements, including melodies written by Juan LaManna. The opera weaves together recordings of refugee writings along with sections of presidential speeches from Roosevelt and Truman.
The orchestra hosted five musicians playing violin, bass, piano, trumpet and clarinet.
The cast included 12 children ages seven to 16, with eight members of our greater Oswego community playing refugees and three established lead parts – in roles designated as such in the manuscript – played by "very accomplished opera singers from New York City," LaManna said.
The children’s ensemble consisted of Caroline A., Katie A., Gabriella B., Natalie B., Gianna E., Lauren J., Megan J., Sophia M., Annilea M., Juliette M., Lexie P., and Lena W.
Oswego Opera Theater’s performance of “The Golden Cage” will be available to watch online beginning in December at https://oswegogoldencage.bpt.me/
**A special thanks to Kingsford Park Elementary teacher Robin Tryon, SUNY Oswego student Gabrielle Kroeger, and local freelance journalist Kenneth Sturtz for their comments, contributions, and research revolving around “The Golden Cage” performance.