|Directed by:||Nina Baker Feinberg and Ted Schillinger||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2000||Running Time:||44 mins.|
|More Info:||Biography on Isa Kremer; Isa Kremer singing Yiddish on YouTube||Category:||World Jewry|
International singing sensation Isa Kremer seduced audiences around the world with her modern renditions of traditional Jewish folk songs, flaunting her Jewish culture even during the Holocaust. Isa Kremer:The People’s Diva explores the long and fascinating life of a brave woman who brought Jewish music to international audiences.
“My darling, my love, the concert was marvelous. I was in perfect form,” Isa wrote while touring London and Paris at age 60. “It has been a wonderful season for me. I have many good friends and a most enthusiastic public to come back to.”
Isa Kremer reconstructs the life of this one-of-a-kind woman through archival footage of her performances, family interviews, and the critic’s responses to her shows. Although she had a beautiful, well-trained voice, it was her alluring presence that enthralled audiences. Critics who went to hear her music inevitably ended up writing about her eyes, which were “black at night and glistened like two stars.” With her captivating eyes, sharp tongue (she could banter in eighteen languages), and sleek Chanel dress suits, Isa was the kind of woman who could get away with singing in Yiddish to Berlin audiences during Hitler’s rule. “It was never overdone,” an admirer says of Isa’s manner. “It was never exaggerated. It was never cheap—she had style.”
Even as a young girl, Isa was marked by a fierce talent, independent mind, and firm determination. At only fifteen years old, her revolutionary poems were being published in the liberal “Odessa News.” The editor was so taken by her writing that he paid a visit to the young girl. When he asked about her future plans, Isa responded without hesitation, “I’m going to be a singer.” Instead of restraining her enthusiasm and saying, “I’d like to be a singer,” or “I plan on singing,” Isa chose bold words that impressed the editor and revealed her self-assured attitude. Sure enough, a few years later, Isa’s singing career took off right away.
Isa was enjoying her early career as a classical and opera singer when Jewish poet Chaim Bialik came to see her performance. Bialik confronted Isa after the show: “Why do you waste your time,” he asked, “anyone with a voice can sing classical songs. Why don’t you sing the songs of your own people?” Isa took the advice to heart and immediately rethought her performances. She began to sing in Yiddish and adapted Jewish folk songs for the stage. Trained in opera, Ida combined singing and acting in a novel way, embodying the characters she sang about, and made simple folk songs part of a grand tradition.
With her unique show and dazzling stage presence, Ida toured internationally, befriending the social elite and intelligentsia (including Albert Einstein), collecting stunning jewelry, and receiving lavish praise. One critic described her as “a radiant incarnation of artist’s witchery.”
But no matter how successful she was, Isa’s life was never easy. She saw some of the twentieth century’s most violent political failures. War and revolution seemed to follow her wherever she went. Isa was born in Russia, and when the Revolution broke out, it separated her family. She moved away from Europe before the Holocaust, but watched it destroy the lives of her family and the shtetl lifestyle in which she was raised. Then, in the last chapters of her life, she witnessed brutal political unrest in her home in Argentina.
Isa Kremer participates in a debate that’s still relevant today — the working woman. In order to travel and perform as freely as she did, Isa had to make sacrifices. Relationships and her family took a backseat to her demanding career. Isa’s daughter gives a sad smile while explaining that she was raised by a wet nurse and knew her mother only by the splendid parties that were thrown when she came home from touring.
The documentary also recognizes the struggle between cultural and personal identity. Isa was not religious and never wanted to be a Jewish singer—she wanted to be a great singer. But she expected that her Yiddish songs would appeal to everyone, not just Jews. “It must be an art for the great mass of people,” she explained, believing Jewish folk songs were so rich in meaning and beauty they could touch all of humanity. And coming from Isa’s lips, they did.