Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Alexander Olshanetsky


Born on 23 October 1892 in Odessa, Ukraine. His father was a merchant. He learned in a cheder, Yiddish school and in a gymnasium. As a six-year-old child, he manifested an ability to play the violin, and his father enrolled him in the Odessa imperial musical school, where he remained for nine years, and he learned to play various instruments.

Due to his desire to wander, he left his home against the wishes of his parents, and in 1917 went away with the orchestra of the Odessa Opera as a violinist. Thus he wandered across Southern Russia and Siberia, where he entered into a Russian operetta troupe as a choral director. Meanwhile, during wartime, he was taken in as a soldier and he became the bandmaster of his regiment. With his regiment he turned up in Kharbin, where he encountered a Yiddish troupe under the direction of Fiszon, and when Sandler suddenly left the troupe and went away to America, O., with the permission of the regimental commander, became the conductor of the Yiddish troupe.

Here he began to write music for Yiddish operettas. His first composition was for Yitzhak Kaplan's operetta "Tsurik aheym keyn tsion (Going Back Home to Zion)," then for Fogelnest's "Aronchik and Molomonchik."

The conditions in Kharbin, however, became difficult for Yiddish theatre, and O. joined a Russian operetta troupe, with whom he toured for several years across Japan, China and India.


In 1921 he returned to Kharbin; however, he no longer encountered Yiddish troupes, and [so] he went off to America, where in 1922 he arrived at his uncle's, the actor Hyman Meisel.

Here he felt for the first time the true sense of a "greenhorn" until Schwartz got him the opportunity to write music for Andreyev's "Anathema", Sackler's "Yizkor" and for Zhulavsky's drama "Shabtai tsvi"; however, this didn't change his situation much. He thence went to Cuba as the conductor of an itinerant opera troupe, and when he first returned he wrote music for Isidore Lash's operetta "Di freylekhe kaptsonim", which was performed at the Lenox Theatre, and he became engaged as the conductor and composer for that theatre. There he composed music for "Tsigayner prints" by Siegel, "Palestiner libe (Palestine Love)" by Isidore Lillian. A season later, he was engaged by Rolland for the Liberty Theatre, where he composed music for the successful operettas "Zise libe" and "Der goldene soldat" by L. Freiman. Since 1927 he is engaged at the National Theatre, where he has composed music for many operettas and melodramas, from which he has had a special success: "In gortn fun libe" by Kalmanowitz and Siegel; "A gan eydn far tsvey" by Siegel, and "Itsikl sholtik" and "Der litvisher yankee" by Isidore Lash.

Season 1929-30 -- wrote music for the operetta "Di eyntsike nakht" by Avraham Blum, and "Mazel in libe" by Meyer Schwartz (both staged at the National Theatre.)

On 24 February 1929, A. staged for the first time on the radio in New York his adapted orchestration of Goldfaden's "Bar kokhba."

M. E.

  • A. Frumkin -- Vegen operetes idishe ngin -- un amerikaner rz?shen, "Morning Journal", N. Y., 24 February 1928.

  • Ts. H. R. -- A. olshanetsky's radio oyffirung fun "bar kokhba", "Tog", N. Y., 22 February 1929.






Home       |       Site Map       |      Exhibitions      |      About the Museum       |       Education      |      Contact Us       |       Links

Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 3, page 66.

Copyright Museum of Family History.  All rights reserved.