Dessauer's Dutch Yiddish Opera
Not all Jewish musicians in 18th-century Holland were respectable - a guide to Amsterdam brothels, “`t Amsterdamsch Hoerdom”, published in various editions from 1694 throughout the eighteenth century, mentions that 'the fancier establishments […] competed for the services of Ashkenazi Polish Jewish fiddlers - who absented themselves on the Sabbath days of Friday and Saturday' (Schama, 'The Embarrasment of Riches')
But one of the most remarkable Jewish enterprises in music was the Dutch opera company `Industrie et Récréation d'Amusement et Culture' founded by the German-born singer and music teacher Jacob Horst Dessauer in Amsterdam in 1784, which performed in German and Yiddish.
Alfred Sendrey writes in his book 'The Music of the Jews in the Diaspora':
The entire company, which consisted of actors, singers and twenty-three orchestra members, were all Jews. This Jewish theater, active until 1838, gave operatic performances of the works of Salieri, Martini, Grétry, Daleyrac, Nicolo, Méhul, Kreutzer, Süssmayr, and always, always, Mozart. […] Announcing a performance of `Don Giovanni' on Saturday, May 1796, Dessauer put an advertisement in the Rotterdam Courant informing the public that this performance would start at nightfall when the Sabbath ended.
This very significant enterprise was coupled with an opera and theatre school founded by Dessauer and his colleague Franzmann in 1791 in his German Theatre (the Hoogduitsche Schouwburg) in Amstelstraat, Amsterdam, a building which survived until 1940. The size of the opera company and its nearly fifty years of activity must indicate that the level of interest in the Jewish community in its productions was sufficient to make it economically viable.
Dessauer also had a role in politics and in the establishment of Jewish civic rights. He was a leading member of the Jewish `patriotic club', `Felix Libertate', which supported the principles of the French Revolution. An early meeting of this club, founded in February 1795, was held in Dessauer's theatre, in which he held forth on the cause of liberty. It was as a result of the incessant lobbying of `Felix Libertate' that the National Assembly at The Hague in September 1796 passed its resolution on Jewish equality in civic rights. It is clear that this issue was important for Dessauer in his theatre work. In May 1795 he had made a request for his troupe to use the Amsterdamse Schouwburg, effectively the state theatre, during its closed season from May to August. The Regents rejected this request on four grounds: the theatre was not insured out of season, it needed to be closed for maintenance and repairs, a concession might set a precedent, and the sight of Jewish actors on the stage might damage the prestige and patriotic reputation of Dutch actors. These extremely specious and feeble objections indicate the distance between integration and acceptance that the Jews still faced in this most `liberal' of European societies.