Prague Reclaims Long Banned Jazz Operetta – SlippediscSlippedisc
A review by Alexander Goldscheider, exclusive to Slipped Disc:
The Prague State Opera continues its remarkable Musica non grata project with a revival of Paul Abraham’s operetta Ball in Savoy. Its original premiere in Berlin on December 23, 1932 was a huge success, alas short-lived as Hitler became chancellor five weeks later. Despite rave reviews, the fact that Hungarian composer Paul Abraham was Jewish, as were librettists Alfred Grünwald and Fritz Löhner-Beda, and impresarios Alfred and Fritz Rotter, led to the show’s closure on April 2, 1933.
It was then premiered somewhat paradoxically on September 9, 1933 by the New German Theater in Prague under the musical direction of George Szell, successor in office to longtime Alexander Zemlinsky. The New German Theater is now the State Opera
On September 16, 2022, nearly 89 years later, audiences in Prague were able to revisit Ball in Savoy in the same newly redecorated building. The production is just as sumptuous and brilliantly executed. The orchestra clearly appreciates the jazzy score with its offbeat orchestration, its classic operetta melodies, a mixture of equally classic dances with South American dances, all on a spectacular decor by Hans Hoffer lit by Jan Dörner as s there was no energy crisis, and in haute-couture suits by Georges Vafias.
Martin Čičvák’s dynamic staging would be even more fascinating if Vlasta Reitererová’s excellent Czech translation suffered a few cuts, especially in the third act, but the audience seemed to enjoy every moment and cheerily clapped at times to catchy tunes. . They were universally excellently performed by a solid cast of opera singers, who had no problem changing their style like Zerlina or Queen of the Night, like Doubravka Součková, or whose night was one of all firsts of their careers, like the young Daniel Matoušek, who practically stole the show, as if he were at the peak of his career. Jiří Hájek and Barbora Řeřichová left nothing to be desired from the quartet of main characters, with a sexy Linda Caridad Fernandez Saez, who danced as if Abraham had written the music for her moves. The extravagantly colored sets and costumes, coupled with exuberant singing and dancing, sometimes make you feel like you’re on Broadway or in the West End.
What should be appreciated above all is the whole complex project of “unwelcome music” which began in 2020 and has so far brought unique concerts and operas as much as research on Czech and German composers from , mostly Jewish, whose careers and lives were destroyed by the Nazis.
The State Opera once lagged behind the almost hallowed National Theater under socialism, and the trend continued after the Velvet Revolution. Many productions were shabby in every way, but the three-year, $51 million major overhaul put an end to all that. Its reopening in 2020 coincided with the Musica non grata project and it couldn’t be a more symbiotic achievement. Schönberg’s Erwartung, Schreker’s Der ferne Klang, Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins, Schulhoff’s Flammen, Weinberg’s Kaddish, Weinberger’s Švanda dudák – these are not only the titles that do honor to the victims, but valid and necessary productions for the today’s audience.
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