Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Etel Kovenska

Born in 1924 in Zhetl, Grodno Gubernia. Her father was a broker in a forest. She got an inclination for art from her mother's side, whose father was a badkhan [jester], although he was not a professional. His letters and words were in grammar. Her mother used to participate with great success in the local drama circle, where she received that name, as the "Vilna Troupe" proposed to put her in there, which she however, due to family reasons, rejected. At the age of seven K. participated in Russian as "Albert" in Gordin's "Kreutzer Sonata," given by a guest-starring Russian troupe. Although she was enchanted with the theatre, which she had seen, she however felt a resentment to Yiddish theatre because of the shund (trashy) repertoire, which the guest-starring troupes had performed in town. Her mother however, who had seen in her an actress, had through her brother put her in contact with the actor Michoels, and K. joined the technicum of the theatre.

"Already from the first steps in the studio, -- recalls her teacher, the folk artist Benjamin Zuskin -- about the young Etel, she excelled in her studies in practicing scenes. Rich intonation, deeper usage, simplicity -- Here are the rare properties of a true, natural, actorial personality with whom a true actor will be born. Etel has already shown in her first student etude ... Thus it is no wonder that Sh. Michoels trusted her with such a role as that of Reizl Spivak in the spectacle, "Wandering Stars," then when not even a year had passed, K. became a schoolteacher of the theatrical technique, and she fulfilled those hopes. ... Until today K. has created four interesting young women figures.


Reizl Spivak in "The Wandering Stars" (1941), the gymnast Betty Shapiro, in Sholem Aleichem's "Der blutiker shpas" (1944), "Di farkhishufte kale," and recently Sarahle in the spectacle, "Khasene gehat" (Dobrushin's montage of Peretz's was "Khasene gehat," "In keler-shtub," and his one-acter, "S'brent.") One can already speak on the subject of this actress. The theme is: Love of the innocent Jewish girl. A delicate bloom that has only taken off, Light winds blow upwards, and the flower withers. There is always a struggle for the right to love, Both for Reyzele, for Khanale, for Sarahle. In Etel Kovenska's portrayal are the characteristics -- lyricism, sadness. All three figures have a romantic edge. In them there is a particular musicality, a strange freshness, a certain novelty that is so unique to K. I wondered very much about her personas. A blustery and very noble face, a slender, tall plastic figure, a hearty voice. All these extraordinary virtues are given, besides everyone else, to her artistic conviction, her personas. And you can say for sure that she is already the darling of the masses."

It's interesting the first touch of the Moscow press about her acting. The Moscow "Izvestiya" writes:

"We have come to see how the new actress has been born, Etel Kovenskaya. She plays Reizl Spivak. It is evident that there is another inexperienced student. She is still lacking in life experience and professional experience. Her Reizl does not change over the course of the spectacle, though she begins her role as a nouveau young girl and ends as a mature actress. If you wish, you may have her complaints. But how can you argue in your arguments if playing in this spectacle sounds like the kind of delicate and pure note? Who will dare demand the experience of this beginner while she reveals to you the soul of the figure, while the figure dies with the passion and authenticity of talent."

Y. Lyubomirski writes:

"So it was written soon after her first debut. From then on, K. grew strongly in the face of mastery. Even more so: she showed a wide range of diaphragm, while in her first performance on the stage, we felt a lyrical actress in her. Now, after her performance in the role of Sarahle in "Khasene gehat," it is clear that K. has all the talent to be a dramatic actress. Here the constant, inevitable watch of K. is a joyous and very promising phenomenon."

In the Moscow Yiddish State Theatre, K. fought for an entire series of prominent roles, and when the theatre was blocked, the Berdichev Jews, Zavadsky, the leader of the Moscow Academic Dramatic Theatre, she invited Russians to this theatre. Of the many roles that she played there, Is worth remembering the ways in which the Soviet press had praised her enthusiastically as "Desdemona" in Shakespeare's "Othello," the "Baronessa Shtal" in Lermontov's "Der maskarad (The Masquerade)," "Di yunge shafak," Bashkir girl in "Baynakht bshet lkoy levone."

The author of the play, "A heldisher tat makhmes libe," Yevegni Min [sp], writes his impression of her acting in the play:

"The purity of the soul, with the torment of the young female of the Shapak. This is a fluttering young soul who is making true love, but she must be subjected to the cruel custom of our ancestors (elders). She arrives in the tent of Mann Akietet, though she knows he is in love with another woman. The actress E. Kovenska  plays psychological immersion, the tragic figure of the Shapak. We have seen that the Shapak in her entire majesty and grace,Both the passion of her nature, the pride of a woman despite what you have to do to embrace the love of her lucky partner and rival."

Sh.E. from Yehoshua Lyubomirski.






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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 7, page 6286.

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