The heartrending and tragically bittersweet song Glik (Happiness) was composed by Olshanetsky to Bella Meisel’s lyrics for Der letster tants (The Last Dance), with a book by Louis Freiman and other lyrics by Isidore Lillian (1882–1960) and Israel Rosenberg and produced initially at the Prospect Theater in the Bronx in 1930—the first major production for any Bronx theater. The central story revolves around yet another variation on a hackneyed archetypal theme—an elderly father desperate to ensure a marriage for his daughter before he dies. So ingrained was this basic leitmotif in Jewish lore that one reviewer, knowing nothing in advance of this particular story line, recognized what he called the clichéd scenario and “saw it coming the moment the curtain rose.”
We can determine that Glik was sung at a climactic moment in a dramatic and pathos-filled scene (whose tragic consequence would soon be averted) in an otherwise lighthearted musical that was also—judging from reviewers’ descriptions, from the large cast of supporting and tangential roles, and from extraneous subplots—a bit of an extravaganza, replete with burlesque elements, magicians performing black magic, cabaret scenes, and pre–Damon Runyon glimpses of the underworld.
An aged wealthy man has specified in his will that his daughter Mildred must marry by a certain date or forfeit her inheritance. Her lawyer organizes a “marriage of convenience” to Misha Feinman, a convicted but completely innocent prisoner awaiting execution on death row at Sing Sing prison. He agrees to the apparently legal scheme in return for money that he can leave to his sister. On the day before Misha’s scheduled execution, a proper Jewish wedding ceremony is conducted at Sing Sing by its Jewish chaplain and a cantor. Even the usually critical and demanding Abraham Cahan reported that this prison scene was deeply moving. After the ceremony Misha is granted a few moments alone with his new bride, essentially just to have a few words with her for the last time and to assure her that she will, in fact, be the widow of an innocent man. But during that brief encounter they fall in love. Hence the reference in the lyrics to the strange vicissitudes and twists of fate that have given him only one moment of joy at his life’s last moment. The show itself, of course, was no tragedy. The poignancy is short-lived, for the next day Misha receives a full pardon from the governor, and eventually, he and Mildred marry.
Glik was introduced in that production by Michal Michalesko (1885/88?–1957), one of the reigning leading men of the Yiddish stage, who, in addition to playing the part of Misha, also produced the show. The song was written and sung as a duet between Misha and Mildred (played by its lyricist, Bella Meisel). But Michalesko, for a long time almost inextricably associated with the song, also sang it frequently as a solo rendition at public performances.
By: Neil W. Levin
Lyrics by Bella Meisel
Now I stand and think:
What a strong power
fate holds over everyone.
One moment it makes a joke;
then it quickly turns to rage.
It can damn you and also bless you.
If it was up to me,
if only I could
change your strange fate,
I would set you free,
renew your life as well,
and for your happiness I would pray.
Happiness, you’ve come to me,
but a bit too late.
Good fortune, you have arrived
and filled my heart with such joy.
I do not want to think now
what fate will bring me tomorrow,
so long as I have at least one moment
when fortune is in my hands,
and I get to dance the last dance with you.
Lyrics by Bella Meisel
ikh shtey atsind un trakht:
vos far a shtarke makht
der shikzal hot af yedn mentshn.
ot makht er zikh a shpas;
ot vert er bald in kaas.
er ken dikh shtrofn un oykh bentshn.
ven s’iz on mir gevent,
ven ikh volt nor gekent,
dayn modnem shikzal do fartretn.
volt ikh dikh yetst bafrayt.
dayn lebn oykh banayt,
un far dayn glik volt ikh gebetn.
glik, du bist gekumen tsu mir,
ober a bisl tsu shpet.
glik, du host gekumen
un farshaft mayn harts azoy fil freyd.
kh’vil yetst gornit klern
vos der morgn vet brengen far mir.
azoy lang ikh hob khotsh eyn moment
dos glik yetst in mayne hent,
un ikh tants dem letstn tants mit dir.
Composer: Alexander Olshanetsky
Genre: Yiddish Theater
Robert Abelson, Baritone;
Elli Jaffe, Conductor;
Vienna Chamber Orchestra
Date Recorded: 10/01/2001
Venue: Baumgartner Casino (A), Vienna, Austria
Engineer: Hughes, Campbell
Assistant Engineer: Hamza, Andreas
Assistant Engineer: Weir, Simon
Project Manager: Schwendener, Paul
Publisher: Music Sales Corp.
Arranger/Orchestrator: Patrick Russ
Yiddish Translations/Transliterations: Eliyahu Mishulovin & Adam J. Levitin
Arrangement © Milken Family Foundation