Everything I put up on Wikipedia gets wiped so I am putting it all up here in my own way -- mostly stuff that Wikipedia does not have in English. Mainly information about operetta but some other topics as well

Friday, March 27, 2015

Emerich (Imre) Kalman

Who the Devil is Emerich Kalman? His name goes close to being totally forgotten these days but in the first half of the 20th century he was much acclaimed. His music was so popular that Hitler even offered to make him an honorary Aryan (Kalman was Jewish) -- an amazing distinction, whatever else it was. Kalman declined the offer and got out of Europe while the going was good.

But there is one place these days where he has not been forgotten: Moerbisch. Moerbisch is as near as you can get to being the world headquarters of operetta. Situated by a lake in Austria's beautiful Salzkammergut (Lake District), Moerbisch is to operetta as Bayreuth is to Wagner. Performances at Moerbisch are lavish. Huge sums are spent on them to make them as good a performance of the work concerned as you can possibly get.

And the audience at Moerbisch is amazing in its vastness. When the cameras cut to the audience you can see that their claim of huge audiences is fully believable. The audience goes on forever. It looks like half of Vienna is there. Does any other stage performance have an audience that big? I know of none. Perhaps in Russia.

The Moerbisch performances might almost be called "definitive" performances except for one thing: No two stage shows of any kind are ever the same (except perhaps for Shakespearean performances). The original script is taken as not much more than a set of suggestions in many cases. The producer on each occasion feels free to cut bits out and put new bits in. And for the light entertainment that is operetta that is particularly so.

That seems to me disrespectful of the talent that made the show notable in the first place but it can help by making a show more relevant to a particular time and place. And the great resources of all kinds now available in the early 21st century greatly expand what can be done -- things that would probably not be dreamed of by the original author -- but which do expand the watchability and impact of the show.

And having the great resources of Moerbisch applied to an operetta by Hungarian composer Kalman certainly produces very good musical theatre indeed. I have recently watch the 2004 Moerbisch performance of Kalman's Graefin Maritza and was quite gripped by it. The plot of the play is the sort of folly you expect from operetta -- with everybody living happily ever after by the end of the show -- but the acting and the singing were as good as can be.

And Kalman's music was both lively and inclusive of some very catchy songs. I am in fact rather amazed that the Varasdin song is not better known. It is very fun and catchy indeed. The inhabitants of the fine city of Varasdin in Northern Croatia are probably not too keen on the song as it portrays Varasdin as home to 18,000 pigs -- when Varasdin has much grander real claims than that.

Tenor Marko Kathol leads the Varasdin scene and I was much impressed by his talent. I have watched that scene over and over again. With Kalman's music and the spirited performances by both Kathol and the "Graefin" (Dagmar Schellenberger), it is so beautiful.  I have looked Kathol up and it seems that others share my very favourable impression of his abilities. That he is a former ballet dancer certainly shows in the flexibility with which he moved at Moerbisch

Viennese operetta has a sort of frantic gaiety about it. A lot of it was written in the aftermath of the ghastly WWI and no city was more impacted by that war than Vienna. It lost something like 90% of the territory it once ruled. But, being the city of music, Vienna rose to the occasion and produced entertainment that both lightened the spirits and took people back to happier days. The operettas are usually set in the prewar period. They have left a great musical treasure for us all.

You can view the marvellous Varasdin song ("Komm mit nach Varasdin") below:

The words of the song are here

There is a nice picture below of the very expressive Dagmar Schellenberger in her role as the Graefin at Moerbisch in 2004. She is both a most accomplished soprano and a superb actress.


I am a great fan of Schellenberger. I have even put up a fan site for her. She is a fabulous and expressive woman as well as a great Saxon soprano. And in operetta it helps if the ladies are good-looking. And Schellenberger is. We actually see more of her in Die lustige Witwe but IMHO she looks best when she wears Tracht -- towards the end of this show. The big skirts of country Austria do seem to be flattering generally.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Fledermaus at Covent Garden

  I have just watched (twice) the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Strauss's Die Fledermaus.  The time travel concerned was made possible by a DVD.

Hermann Prey and Kiri te Kanawa pictured in the finale

The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is everything you expect of an Opera House -- a large and ornate building  that gives the impression of a no-expenses-spared project.  I was pleased to see the the stage curtains featured prominently the Royal cipher (EIIR).

The opera itself was brilliant entertainment, with lots of laughs in it, particularly in Act 3.  It was almost as madcap as Gilbert & Sullivan (NOTHING can be as madcap as Trial by Jury).  It well deserves the innumerable performances that have been done of it.

Perhaps because of my interest in languages, the scene that amused me most was when the husband and the jailer were introduced as Frenchmen and they had to pretend to speak French to one-another even though they knew just about as much French as I do, which is very little. They managed a few common but totally unconnected French words and even threw in a bit of Italian.

Quoting excerpts from earlier operettas in a new operetta seems to be rather commonly done.  Nobody seems bothered about plagiarism.   So when Prey burst into a good rendition of Flotter Geist (from Zigeuner Baron) during the party entertainment segment it was simply appreciated as a good performance.  I imagine he has sung the whole of that part on occasions.

Mein Herr Marquis

Another amusing reference was in Act 3 when the drunken jail warder asked the conductor to play the music for a Radames aria from "Aida" so he could sing it.  He made a hash of it of course but the conductor was the omnipresent Placido Domingo, who has sung the part of Radames on many occasions, so we had the odd and amusing sight of the conductor singing along to help out a singer with a song.  Very creative!

And a  big surprise was the appearance in the party entertainment  segment of every woman's favourite soulful singer -- "Sharl" Aznavour -- playing, what else, Charles Aznavour. To get him along in a cameo role was undoubtedly a bit of a coup for the production.  You don't have to understand a word Aznavour sings to get the soulfulness.  He is a mobile evocation of tragedy. He is not my cup of tea at all but he is undoubtedly a supreme master of his genre.

And the dancing was surprisingly good too.  The dancing in operas and operettas can be pretty basic.  I have an example in mind -- from Britain -- but will not be so unkind as to record it.  So when the ballet company floated into the party entertainment scene it was a real pleasure

The chief male dancer impressed me.  It is of course routine for male dancers to lift the ballerina above their heads at some stage, though few have been as good at it as Nureyev.  He would lift the lady up with two hands and then hold her there briefy with one hand -- a great feat of strength.  And the dancer on this occasion was even better.  He exited holding the ballerina above his head -- with his grip on just one of her ankles. Just holding her there would be pretty good, let alone walking off with her like that.  Update:  On further viewing he seems to have a hand on his lady's bottom too.  But it is still quite a feat.

And where did the director get the "two old ladies" segment?  It seemed straight out of vaudeville.  Does vaudeville still exist somewhere in England?  Maybe in the clubs.  It was very amusing.

And I was rather pleased at how un-Islamic the show was.  It featured a huge amount of alcoholic imbibing and not a little of  amusing drunkenness.  Towards the end the whole proceedings were said to be a celebration of Champagne!  I think I too would blow myself up if I were a Muslim.

Speaking of 21st century concerns, I was pleased at how good the ethnic stereotyping was in the casting. Ethnic stereotypes are absolutely verboten these days but they have been something of an interest of mine. I have even written academic articles on the subject (here and  here). So I was pleased to see that the Italian music master could not have been more Southern Italian in appearance and manners:  A Neapolitanian, I would have thought. But he was in fact Welsh-born Dennis O'Neill.  Maybe his dark eyes and heavy eyebrows helped. And I was initially a bit critical of "Dr Falke" looking so English -- but I note now that he is introduced as "from London" -- so the casting director and I obviously thought similarly.  And Hermann Prey looked as German as he is.

The performance as a whole was a distinguished one indeed.  Getting Kiri te Kanawa as leading lady was a coup and she was at her very good best.  She both sang and acted admirably.  Though  in the acclaimed czardas scene it seemed a bit  strange to me to have a half-Maori lady proclaiming her passionate love of her Hungarian homeland!

Kiri singing Klange der Heimat

I guess my interest in ethnic matters betrayed me there. And Hermann Prey as the husband was in his element. His expression when his wife was expounding his sins in Act 3 was very well and amusingly done.

So what did I not like about the production?  I LOATHED the "trouser role", where the Prince was played by a bald-headed woman.  The role was originally written that way but I am obviously not alone in my response to it --  as quite a lot of productions have put a man into the role.  And couldn't they at least have put some hair on her?  A bald-headed woman is a tragedy. The lady sang well enough but looking at her was a pain.

I suppose the producer at Covent Garden was being true to the text in casting that role but I wish he had been true to the text throughout. He clearly couldn't decide whether to produce the show in German or English.  It was mostly in German but also substantially in English.  Because I have a degree of age-related hearing loss, I understood the German better -- because it had subtitles -- while  the English did not.  The English bits were mainly to get laughs  -- which succeeded -- but why not be done with it and produce the whole thing in English? Kiri te Kanawa is of course a native English speaker and I can't imagine that the other singers would have had any difficulty.

Many patrons of the arts are elderly and reduced hearing is a normal part of aging so all recordings of operas and operettas should be fully subtitled, just as all live performances should include supertext.

And whatever limitations the show had were all more than made up for by Strauss's wonderful music.  The profundity of J.S. Bach is my musical home but you would have to be a sad soul indeed not to hear the joy that is in the music of Johann Strauss II.

Anybody interested can watch the whole thing online here -- with subtitles.

UPDATE from May, 2015:  I have just watched the show again and am even more grouchy about the trouser role this time.  I can see absolutely no artistic merit in having a bald woman in that role. Major performances of operetta usually have quite masculine-looking men in  important male roles.  I looked aside for most of the time when she was in focus.  Opera directors have substantial interpretive leeway so it seems a pity that this folly was continued.  Though maybe  he would have risked the wrath of feminists if he had changed it.

Why did Strauss specify a woman for that role?  There were frequent tensions between Austria and Russia around the turn of the century -- tensions that eventually gave us a world war.  So maybe casting a bald woman as a Russian prince was meant to be derisive, a derisive comment on Russians.  If so, it seems regrettable that a now obsolete political statement has been continued.

The ending was a trifle outside operetta conventions.  Normally at that point all the separated lovers get together and vow marriage.  But on this occasion the leading couple were already married.  Their marriage was however under tension as a result of the machinations of the bat so the ending consisted of the couple reaffirming their married bliss.  Only a touch outside convention!

Before I close off my comments here I am however going to mention something totally wicked -- something that will damn me to Hell for all time:  Sex appeal.  How dare anybody introduce a Hollywood term into a discussion within the world of Austro-Hungarian operetta?

But I am going to do it.  IMHO none of the ladies in this show had sex-appeal.  Kiri te Kanawa has a marvellous warm soprano voice, is a good actress and has pleasant looks -- but IMHO she has NO sex-appeal.  There! I have said it,  I have uttered a great blasphemy.

But this was of course an English production of something from deep in old Austria-Hungary.  And when I think of Austrian or South German productions of THEIR operettas, I think of gorgeous ladies such as Zabine Kapfinger, Anja Katharina Wigger, Dagmar Schellenberger and Ute Gfrerer.  Wigger is basically just a slim blonde but, in her 2008 performance at Moerbisch, she just oozes sex-appeal. So I  can imagine a more appealing production of Strauss's wonderful creation.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Was Paganini a psychopath?

Paganini was a brilliant violinist in the 19th century but what else do we know about him?

Franz Lehar wrote an operetta about him called, unsurprisingly, Paganini.  And the operetta seems to be pretty historically accurate as far as I can see.  Paganini is portrayed as a compulsive womanizer and gambler, which he was.  Even his gambling away his violin is historically accurate.  So the operetta would seem to be an insightful recreation of the man.

And, given my psychology background I can say with confidence that what Lehar portrays is a psychopath, and a pretty reprehensible one at that.  Psychopathy was one of my research interests during my academic career and I have had a couple of research articles on the subject published in the academic literature. See here and here.  I have also written about it more recently here

Psychopaths very often have a magnetic appeal to women -- mainly because the psychopath tells the woman whatever she wants to hear  -- whether it is true or not.  And Paganini's approach to women is also just that.  But psychopaths tend to become unglued when their lies become evident.  And Paganini did. And the way the Princess sticks to him despite great disappointments is also very typical.  Women are reluctant to abandon the wonderful illusion that the psychopath has created and think they can make it come true if they try hard enough. So if anyone would like to see how psychopaths do it, Lehar's operetta would be a good start.

In the circumstances the ending of the operetta has to be low key by operetta standards.  The parties simply go their different ways.  At least the death and damnation of an opera ending is not seen.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Zigeunerliebe and GWF Hegel

I guess it shows what a hopeless academic I am that I could write the heading above. Only an academic would compare a Viennese operetta with a nigh-unintelligible Leftist philosopher. I guess they both spoke German. There's that to it.

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there seems to have been some fascination with Gypsies as living "free" lives.  You see it in Carmen, in Zigeunerliebe and Il Trovatore, for instance. Lehar's Zigeunerliebe has a somewhat minor place in operatic history but I was watching a 1973 cinematic version of it last night so it is in front of my mind at the moment.

Both Carmen and Zigeunerliebe feature a fascination with gypsy life.  And the portrayal is fairly similar in both cases.  The major difference is that the ending is tragic in the opera (Carmen) and happy in the operetta (Zigeunerliebe).  But that's basically the difference between the two art-forms.  In some operettas there are THREE happy couples at the end (e.g. Der Graf von Luxemburg and Im weissen Roessl) so Zigeunerliebe is actually rather morose in having only one.  The scheming old father was apparently seen as not deserving of marital bliss.

Both Carmen and Zigeunerliebe are quite moral tales.  They say that a desire for freedom can be strong but freedom is in the end illusory -- or at least has a lot of downside.  

Which brings me to GWF Hegel -- who thought the same.  Hegel was of course the philosophical inspiration of both Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler but still seems popular among the small number of Leftists who are capable of thinking at any depth.  And you DO need to be a deep thinker to follow Hegel.  His writings are a real struggle to follow.  I gather that he gave satisfying  lectures, however, and after people were inspired by his lectures, they made the effort of following his writings  -- and so generally broadcast his name and fame.  I have a more extended comment on his writings here.

But the problem Hegel and the opera characters were addressing is a real one.  We all like to be free from restrictions but a moment's thought will tell us that rights connote duties. For example, my right not to be assaulted is everybody elses's duty  not to assault me. Similarly, the opportunity Gypsies have to move around a lot makes it difficult for them to earn a living.  They have to resort to some rather unpleasant work, such as begging and stealing.  

Hegel, however carries that insight to an extreme degree.  He basically said all freedom is an illusion.  Being a philosopher, however, he did not actually deny freedom.  He redefined it -- saying that the only freedom was freedom to march in lockstep with everyone else.  His idea of freedom was the freedom of the ant.  His model of an ideal human society was an anthill.

Fortunately, the English have always valued their individual liberties so Hegel's ideas were not widely accepted in England and its derivative societies.  And both in England and elsewhere the 19th century also produced some good defences of individual liberties -- both in the persons  of various economists (culminating in the thinking of Boehm-Bawerk) and in the very lucid philosophical writings of J.S. Mill. Sadly, Mill did not practice what he preached.  His votes in the House of Commons were thoroughly socialist.  Rather amazingly, he was a crypto-Hegelian.  His On Liberty seems to have been just an intellectual exercise for him.

Fortunately the classical liberal ideas of Mill and others developed in the 20th century to thinking now known as libertarianism -- thinking which sets out in detail how a very much larger scope for liberty than we currently have can be achieved. And insofar as libertarian ideas have been applied (for instance in the policies of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) the results have been very benign -- a stark contrast with the ideas of GWF Hegel.

So there is an answer to the opera characters and others who idolize the Gypsies:  Freedom can never be absolute but we can go much further towards it than we so far have done.

So Lehar's Zigeuner Liebe was rather insightfully didactic.  The glorification of gypsies was rather common  in Austro/Hungarian operetta so Lehar used his great talents in an attempt to right the balance.  In this show he first set out the attractions of the gypsy life, as conventionally conceived, and then showed its downside.  And there was lots of good singing to make the lesson enjoyable

Didactic art can be very good (e.g. Dickens) but that tends to get subordinated to the message.  And in this show there were very few jokes and no characters that one could identify with.  Janet Perry is/was a very nice looking lady and a good singer but I certainly could not see much engaging about the thoroughly scatty woman she portrayed.

And I must comment on "Ilona". She was convincingly portrayed by Colette Lorand and she fitted exactly what my father would have called "An old bomb".  I am not sure how widely that bit of Australian slang is understood but -- approximately --  it means an older lady who thinks she is still as attractive as she was in her youth and is rather arrogant and egotistical as a result:  An unpleasant but realistic character. I quite loathed her. But in a characteristic  Australian way I loathe pretention and egotism generally. It's "bunging on an act" and it's not "fair dinkum".  I could translate those expressions but I think I already have.

So it was good a show but not one to return to very often.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Im weissen Roessl

I have a DVD of the 2008 Moerbisch performance of Im weissen Roessl (The White Horse Inn).  You too can see it.  It is online here. My DVD has English subtitles but the online version is in German only.

Moerbisch is a small lakeside town much visited as a summer holiday resort which has a huge auditorium for stage plays of various sorts.  The auditorium was packed for the performance I saw, as it usually is.  

For a start the 2008 Moerbisch performance was sponsored by ORF (Oesterreichischer Rundfunk; the Austrian State broadcaster) and they seem to have supported a resolution to make the show the definitive version of the operetta.  Money seems to have been no object.  They must have had a hundred "extras" among the performers and both the sets and the costumes were elaborate.  And they made a point of hiring singers who were also good actors and good looking.  The ladies were gorgeous and the character actors were brilliant in filling their parts.  

The many versions of the play over the years that have been performed do differ quite a bit, and this one also has its custom adaptations.  The play by now has been put on so often by so many that it has no "Masoretic" text.  The famous Robert Stolz "Goodbye" song, for instance (Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier) is only heard in English language versions of this show.  In German, it occurred originally in an operetta Die lustigen Weiber von Wien, which now seems to be known only in a movie version ("The Merry Wives of Vienna") but it was later interpolated into movie versions of this show too.

It is difficult to pin down the period in which the show is set.  Kaiser Franz Joseph appears in it and he died in 1916 so one imagines that it is set in the late 19th century.  But "Dr Siedler" at one point uses prominently a 1950s rangefinder camera -- and there are other minor anachronisms -- such as the strange vehicle at the beginning of the show, not to mention the sportscar driven by Sigismund der schoene.  And the national anthem was not anything that Franz Joseph would have known.  In his day the tune was the old Haydn tune later appropriated by Germany for the Deutschland Lied.  The play premiered in 1897 so I assume it was meant to be contemporary and the anachronisms are the work of opinionated later artistic directors.

The plot

The plot is so complex, with everything intertwined, that I doubt that I can say anything useful about it. There is the main theme of the head waiter mooning after his very attractive landlady and the second theme of the lawyer being completely smitten by the gorgeous daughter of the haughty Berlin businessman -- but late in the show a third couple pop up, when a poor professor and his shy daughter encounter another very confident Berliner.  The complexity makes for a lot of laughs and some good arias. And there are, of course, three happy couples at the end.

Somewhat to my surprise and satisfaction the Austrian monarchy is treated fairly sympathetically.  I had expected a modern producer to satirize it in some way. The Kaiser (played by Harald Serafin) is presented as very frail but he probably was at the time the play was written.  And he is portrayed as mentally sharp and kindly.  He is also portrayed as thanking people a lot, which is true to life for Royalty.  And he very clearly seen by his subjects not just as an old man but as a symbol of the country,  which again is right.  The only element of satire I saw was to portray him wearing a helmet with bright GREEN plumes, but he has done that before so it apparently amuses him.

The cast

Intendant Harald Serafin as usual gave himself a part -- as Kaiser -- and he always does his parts well.  I think he is a naturally jolly person and something of that always comes through.  His nearly falling down the ladder was a good humorous touch. And the consternation that produced in his "subjects" was also very convincingly done. I think he did particularly well in this show.  Though his best performance in my view was in Das Land des Laechelns, where he portrayed wonderfully well the sadness of a father sending off his beautiful daughter to a dubious fate.  He normally does not give himself anything very tragic to portray but he can certainly do it.

And I wonder who wrote the wise words that he put in the hotel register.  They really were wise words IMHO.

Both the leading ladies were very easy on the eye.  Whoever thought of pouring the busty Zabine Kapfinger into a dirndl to play the part of the Wirtin (landlady) certainly knew what would look good.  Harald Serafin could not quite keep his eyes off her cleavage when she was leaning over him. Nor could I, for that matter. 

Trying to fend off her unwelcome admirer

Zabine Kapfinger is actually a pop and folk singer in real life so her voice was a little thin at times but she is a brilliant actress.  The show was hi-tech so we saw lots of close-ups of her face at times -- and all her expressions were spot-on for the role.  She played perfectly someone unlike her real self, I gather.  But perhaps not so unlike.  Below is a picture of her in real life with a lucky man -- her husband.  Note those Austrian blue eyes -- celebrated at length in the operetta itself (in the song, Die ganze Welt ist Himmelblau).

A small point about those blue eyes:  Blue eyes were at that time and place seen as a sign of  Treue -- Faithfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty.  You could rely on a person with blue eyes.  There is also a mention of blue eyes as loyal towards the end of Die Lustige Witwe by Lehar.  It has got me wondering if there is something in that. I can think of a reason why there could be something in it:  Blue eyes are cold-climate eyes and co-operation is probably more important to survival in such climates.  And trustworthiness is important to co-operation.

And the ultra-feminine Anja Katherina Wigger (pronounced Vigger) as Otti was rather mesmerizing in her looks and performance. I think a tall slim and attractive blonde who is also a good operatic soprano is something of a rarity.  Sopranos do tend to weight after a while.  And Wigger got her notes effortlessly.  So she is definitely one of my favourite operatic sopranos. Go to the 36 minute mark on the video and also the 46 minute mark to see her in action.  

I am actually rather soppy about Wigger.  I like the way she speaks as well as the way she sings. Her amused Ich eile ("I am hurrying") immediately before she encounters the  hilarious herd of cows sounds very expressive to me.  And her scream when she encounters the cows is as feminine as you can get.

And Sigismund der schoene, as the egotistical but aging playboy, was a manic touch.  And the poor Professor and his daughter in the luggage compartment was a good light-hearted touch of another sort: Self-confidence finally overcomes shyness.

But my favourite character in the operetta was Herr Giesecke.  He was the relentlessly negative curmudgeon who appeared throughout the show.  He had great laugh lines and Klaus-Dieter Lerche delivered them brilliantly.  I laughed at them every time even after I had heard them over and over again. There were jokes throughout the play but Herr Giesecke was basically one big joke.  All his appearances were funny.

The continuity people goofed with him, however.  In the course of  two days his moustache went from white to black and then back to white again!

The jokes

But a lot of what Herr Giesecke said was allusive.  You had to know what he was referring to in order to get the joke.  So I thought I might mention a few of those things from just one of his scenes.  The North/South rivalry in the German lands often seems to get some mention in operetta and here it was played out at length.  In Germany the stern "Prussians" (Northerners) look down on the more relaxed Southerners but the Southerners don't care one bit about that.  They know that they have the culture so the North is welcome to its soldiers.

So Herr Giesecke made a great point out of his view that he should have gone to Ahlbeck rather than the Salzkammergut (Austria's beautiful lake district).  Ahlbeck is an island just off Germany's Baltic coast and the Baltic is a pretty rough body of water.  It is grey and stormy a lot of the time.  The Baltic coast is reasonably passable in summer but nothing like the lush Salzkammergut.

And in denying that the Salzkammergut was better than North Germany he made some hilarious comparisons.  In saying how regions near Berlin where he lives were as good as areas in the Salzkammergut he said at one point: "What about Spandau?".  What about Spandau indeed!  Spandau is a suburb of Berlin and I am sure it is well kept but the only thing notable that I know about it is that a large prison was long located there (now torn down).  

And he also praises the Stoelpchensee as comparable to the Austrian lakes.  The Stoelpchensee is one of a string of small lakes connected by canals to the South of Berlin.  But they are often not much wider than the canals as far as I can see.  Again a foolish comparison.  And one of his best lines comes after he praises the Lueneburger Heide, a much loved heathland area of North Germany.  The Wirtin asks him:  Do they have mountains there?  He replies, "No; but if we did they would be higher"!  

That was quite a big and jolly scene but he crops up later in the play as well.  At the very end when all the couples are happily together he appears and says that in Berlin they would call that knutschen -- "smooching".

Other notes

Something the Ober (head waiter) said at one point  is also rather obscure.  He asks Herr Giesecke if he wants to dudeln.  Dudeln is the Viennese word for yodelling but in slang it means to have a few (alcoholic) drinks.

And in her yodelling song, the Wirtin (Kapfinger) mentions her beloved  Steiermark, a beautiful part of Austria's large Alpine region -- and much beloved of the still remembered Erzherzog Johann (Archduke John), who died in 1859.  In English we call the place "Styria"?  How ugly!  And how needless.  There is nothing hard to pronounce in the original name.  If we can say Denmark, we can say Steiermark.

And all performances at Moerbisch seem to incorporate a complaint about the local mosquitoes. It is a bit of a game to watch for the mention of them to pop up.  There were two mentions of them on this occasion:  A penalty of the Moerbisch stage being located on the marshy shore of a lake, of course.  Pest control can obviously not quite cope.

I think I have finally got the chorus of the theme song into my head but how long the words will stay there is a question.  The words are:

Im "Weissen Rössl" am Wolfgangsee, 
Da steht das Glück vor der Tür, 
und ruft dir zu: "Guten Morgen, 
tritt ein und vergiß deine Sorgen!"

But I think I should just note something about the German nicknames in the play for those who know no German.  German constructs its affectionate nicknames in a way rather different from what we do.  With us a "Joe" or "Joseph" becomes "Joey".  But in Southern German it becomes "Seppl".  How come?   Southern German concentrates on the last part of the name so the "sep" at the end of Joseph or Josef has the diminutive "l" added to make "seppl".  And Josepha in the play becomes "Pepi" or "Peperl" and Leopold becomes "Poldi".

And North German does it another way again. So "Klara" becomes "Klaerchen".  The play includes both Northerners and Southerners so you see both approaches in it. 

Finally, perhaps I should apologize for adopting the English custom of referring to Im weissen Roessl  as an operetta.  The credits rightly describe it as a Singspiel, a play with singing.


The words and translation of "Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein"

 Was mein Herz zu sagen hat, What my heart has said,
Fühlst auch du, you feel too;
Was die Uhr geschlagen hat, what hour the clock has struck,
Weisst auch du. you know too.
Und hast du kein Ohr für mich, And if you will not listen to me,
Finde ich keine Ruh’, I shall find no peace,
Drum hör zu, drum hör zu. so listen, listen.
Sag’ ich es in Prosa dir, klingt es kühn. If I say it to you in prose, it sounds bold.
Das ist nicht das Rechte für mein Gefühl. That is not right for my feelings.
Aber, wenn die Geigen zärtlich für mich fleh’n But, if the violin sweetly pleads on my behalf,
Wirst du gleich mich versteh’n: you will understand me:
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Voll Blütenduft und voll Sonnenschein. full of floral scents and sunshine.
Wenn beim ersten du, ich mich an dich schmieg, The first time that you and I cuddle up,
Braucht mein Herz dazu süsse Walzermusik. my heart will need sweet waltz music.
Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein, My love song must be a waltz,
Der süss berauscht, wie Champagnerwein. sweetly intoxicating, like champagne.
Und das Lied, das dir sagt, „Ich bin dein“, And the song which says, ‘I am yours’
Kann doch nur ein Wiener Walzer sein. can only be a Viennese waltz.
Wenn der Liebe Lust und Schmerz einen packt, When Love bundles pleasure and pain together into one,
Schlägt ein jedes Menschenherz seinen Takt! every human heart beats its own rhythm!
Jeder singt für sich partout Everyone everywhere sings their own song
Und auch der Text dazu heisst: and that’s what the old saying means:
„Chacun à son goût!“ ‘Each to their own!’
Einer gibt den grössten Reiz der Gavott’ One is most attracted by the gavotte;
Und der and’re seinerseits liebt mehr flott! another prefers, for his part, to love more quickly!
Und es wechseln Moll und Dur, And it switches minor and major keys;
Ja, c’est l’amour. Aber ich sage nur: yes, that is love. But I say only this:
Mein Liebeslied… My love song must be a waltz…

And I can't resist putting up here the words for the wonderful "Goodbye" song:

Und eines Tages mit Sang und Klang Da zog ein Fähnrich zur Garde Ein Fähnrich, jung und voll Leichtsinn und schlank Auf der Kappe die goldene Kokarde

Da stand die Mutter vor ihrem Sohn Hielt seine Hände umschlungen Schenkt ihm ein kleines Medaillon Und sie sagt zu ihrem Jungen:

Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiss mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu. Sei das Glück mit dir

Stehe gerade, kerzengerade Lache in den Sonnentag Was immer gescheh'n auch mag Hast du Sorgenminen, fort mit ihnen Ta-ta-ra-ta-ta Für Trübsal sind andere da

Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Und vergiß mich nicht Adieu mein kleiner Gardeoffizier, Adieu, Adieu Sei das Glück mit dir Adieu, Adieu mein kleiner Offizier, Adieu

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Aida: A most "incorrect" opera

When it comes to stage performances (plays, operettas, opera) I like some attempt at authenticity to be made.  Both the sets and the costumes should show some attempt to represent the time and place in which the play is set.  Once upon a time, one could automatically expect that  -- but no more.  Minimalist sets and costumes -- and even anachronistic set and costumes -- seem to be "in".

I can abide minimalism.  It cuts costs and opera is expensive to stage.  But anachronism gets my goat. A recent performance of Handel's Giulio Cesare at Glyndebourne, for instance, had revolvers and steamships in ancient Egypt!  A malediction upon the producer!  I imagine that anachronism is supposed to be clever or entertaining but to me it is just incompetent.

So I greatly appreciate the Metropolitan opera in New York.  They must be the most lavishly funded opera house in the world. When the script requires dancing, they even have their own ballet company to do the honours.  It makes for very high quality staging. And they do a lot of authentic staging.  I don't go there but I buy their DVDs. Buying their stuff helps with their stratospheric costs, of course. And you see a lot more with a DVD than you would see as part of a live audience anyway.

So I was keen to see their production of a famous opera -- Verdi's "Aida".  And I was not disappointed.  The sets were magnificent and very evocative of ancient Egypt. And the costumes were elaborate. There was even a passable representation of the double crown of upper and lower Egypt on the Pharaoh in some scenes.

But I am glad I bought the DVD.  If the performance is  available now via YouTube, I predict that it will soon be taken down.  Why?  Because the performance took place in 1989 and it uses -- horror of horrors -- BLACKFACE.  Both the alleged Ethiopian princess and her alleged Ethiopian father were clearly Caucasian beneath the blacking. The princess was in fact played by Aprile Millo, an American operatic soprano of Italian and Irish ancestry.  I am putting up below an image of her as she appeared in the Met's "Aida".  But it was an excellent performance all round with the famed Placido Domingo as Radames, the Egyptian hero.

And why shouldn't the Met use Millo in their opera?  She is a regular there with a magnificent voice -- and a bit of blacking obviously seemed to them enough to give authenticity to the performance.

How odd it is that something that was normal and unquestioned just a quarter of a century ago is now routinely denounced.  The world is in a fit of hysteria about proper use of language and how the world is represented in general.

Some real Ethiopians below