From literature to opera, children to adults, Ellen Frankel is transmitting Jewish stories to a variety of audiences through a variety of creative genres.
The 60-year-old is the award-winning author of 10 Jewish-themed books, including 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols and the JPS Illustrated Jewish Children’s Bible, which won the 2009 National Jewish Book Award for best illustrated children’s book.
Many of Frankel’s books were published during her 18-year tenure as editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society, which she shepherded through one its most creative periods. “Ellen knows so well the power of stories in bringing people and events from the past alive and imparting life’s wisdom,” says Carol Hupping, managing editor of JPS. “She captivates adults and children alike with Jewish folktales and midrash, drawn from her wealth of Jewish knowledge.”
Frankel has funneled that wealth of knowledge into another creative form: libretti. She has written Jewish-themed libretti for choral groups for 12 years. They have been performed by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony, Philadelphia’s Mendelssohn Club Choir, the Philadelphia Chamber Orchestra and other groups. Her first opera, “Slaying The Dragon,” premieres at the Prince Music Theater on June 7. Frankel says that the opera follows the interaction between a cantor and a Ku Klux Klansman following an incident in Nebraska in the 1990s.
“The influences I brought to the opera are rooted in the Jewish experience and include the High Holiday liturgy and Israeli folk music,” Frankel says. “My creative work has focused on popularizing Jewish literary classics for a broader audience. I’ve used the Bible, Jewish folk tradition and Jewish symbols to make scholarship acceptable to a broad lay Jewish audience.”
Next on Frankel’s creative horizon: “Hosea and Gomer,” an original piece for Nashirah, a Philadelphia Jewish choral group, based on the biblical tale of love and redemption; and a multimedia, high-tech retelling of the Golem story with acclaimed composer Andrea Clearfield.