The Kennedy Center

Marvin David Levy


A composer of operas, oratorios, and numerous other works, Marvin David Levy had his greatest success in 1967 when the Ford Foundation commissioned him to write an opera for the opening season of the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center. The result was Mourning Becomes Electra, based on Eugene O'Neill's modern adaptation of the Aeschylus play. It received instant critical acclaim and international attention.

Following this exceptional achievement, Levy was commissioned by the National Symphony Orchestra to write a musical drama when he saw the 1967 Masada exhibit of artifacts on display at the Jewish Museum of New York. The composer focused on the dramatic elements of the story, commemorating the heroism of Jewish defiance while at the same time mourning the lives that were lost. He decided to base his text in large part on a 1920 poem called "Masada" by a Hebrew writer Isaac Lamdan, and on the writings of Josephus, as well as incorporating the passages from a Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book and the Bible. The work thus became a full-length oratorio with a narrative-speaking role; it premiered at the Kennedy Center in 1973.

While a student, he was an archivist of the American Opera Society and later became its assistant director. He also worked as a freelance music critic. During summers he worked as an apprentice stage director at a music-theater workshop. He later directed full productions such as My Fair Lady . In the 1950s he wrote one-act operas whose premieres he also directed. They included The Tower (1956), a comic biblically based fable for the Santa Fe Opera, and Sobata Komachi (1957) based on a 14th century Japanese Noh' play. Levy has received many honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and two Prix de Rome awards.
Marvin Levy


  • Masada - Oratorio for Tenor, Speaker, Chorus and Orchestra