6: Song and Lyrics, Elizabeth Swados's "Esther Invincible," 1988.
Elizabeth Swados (1951-2016) was an American playwright, composer, and director of socially conscious, experimental musicals. Her eclectic work combined popular and high culture, and themes of feminism, politics, and mental illness. She also wrote on Jewish themes, in works such as "The Haggadah: A Passover Cantata" and "Jerusalem," an oratorio adapted from poems by Yehuda Amichai. In "Esther: A Vaudeville Megillah," later included in Swados's CD "Bible Women," "Esther Invincible" rescues her people from planned genocide. The act takes on contemporary relevance through allusions made to the Holocaust. The songs in this performance were accompanied by a narration based on Elie Wiesel's Purim lecture, "Beauty and Commitment."
Suggested Activity: Have students listen to the song and read the lyrics. Ask your students: how does Swados represent Esther as a warrior, and as a woman? Does she see these as contradictory, or complementary terms? Does Swados represent Esther as admirable? Which, if any, of the other representations in this kit, does this version of Esther most closely resemble?
Ask your students to describe the musical setting itself. Is the music strident and fierce? Is it feminine? What do they think of the voice heard on the song? Does the singer sound resolved? Angry? Worried? After listening to the song a few times, you may ask theatrically- or musically-inclined students to try to sing the song, making (and explaining) their own choices about how to interpret and perform it.
Source: Elizabeth Swados, "Esther Invincible," originally performed in "Esther: A Vaudeville Megillah" (New York: Broadway Play Pub., 1989), included on Bible Women (Milan: 1995), CD.