Operetta Research Center
7 July, 2019
After having been forgotten for more than 80 year, new interest in Paul Ábrahám’s Märchen im Grand-Hotel is noticeable. You’ll recall that his first operetta written in exile, after the Nazis came into power and forced composers such as Ábrahám out of Germany, was revived by Komische Oper Berlin in an abridged concert version, conducted by Adam Benzwi and made highly memorable by the astounding Sarah Bowden in the Rosy Barsony role of Marylou. After this resurrection other theaters followed: Märchen was presented in a fully staged version at the opera in Mainz. And now, barely a year later, the Hamburg State Opera will present yet another new production. And what’s more: there are also new productions in Hannover and Luzern, not to forget Meiningen. Miracles can happen, you might say with a big sight a relief.
The Hamburg opera company is not presenting the show on their big stage, though. Instead, it’ll happen at the so called “Opera Stabile,” which probably suits the intimate character of the show well.
The new staging is by Sascha-Alexander Todtner, who is also the costume designer, together with Christoph Fischer. According to the Hamburg opera website, the dramaturg for the production is Johannes Blum. Interestingly, no musical director is listed yet, nor are there any casting details to be found online.
What we do learn on the website is this: “Otto Preminger, who directed the world premiere in Vienna in 1934, was Jewish, like Paul Ábrahám and Rosy Barsony, who played the Infanta, and emigrated to the USA, where he became a world-famous Hollywood director.”
(Of course, Miss Barsony did not play the infant. It makes you wonder who put together this press release and how serious one can take a dramaturg who gets such absolute basics wrong.)
But never mind – it’s good to see that lesser-known Ábrahám pieces are making their rounds, too, after the first “big” boom of Ábrahám titles. A show such as Märchen im Grand-Hotel with its strong “American” aspects would fit a company like Ohio Light Opera perfectly, also in terms of size of theater and type of performers available. While OLO has gone out of their way to revive rare Kálmán works throughout the decades, they have not done so for Kálmán’s successor as “Hungarian star composer,” Paul Ábrahám. Any kind of American interest in his shows is still – waiting.
An Italian operetta specialist, who has been championing Ábrahám for many moons, wrote to ORCA recently: “I could have never imagined that one day I could see Ball im Savoy as a Wiederaufnahme in Luebeck, Märchen im Grand-Hotel in Hamburg, and Dschainah in Berlin, all three in the same season. I am astonished by this!”
It truly is a German operetta “wunder.”
And the miracle is far more expansive: Stefan Huber directs the new production at the opera of Hannover in November 2019, Carlos Vázquez conducts. You’ll remember that Mr. Huber also directed to opulent new Ábrahám production at Komische Oper: Roxy und ihre Wunderteam with Geschwister Pfister and Jörn-Felix Alt. Before Hannover, there is a new production in Luzern by Bram Jansen, it opens in October 2019. And then, in January 2020, Staatstheater Meiningen follows with a production by Roland Hüve.
And just for the record, Ábrahám’s Dschainah – Das Mädchen aus dem Tanzhaus is this year’s Christmas operetta at Komische Oper. When they did Viktoria und ihr Husar last Christmas, attendance was up to a staggering 100 percent, which is even above the already impressive average 90 percent for the 2018/19 season. In the top category of popular productions at Komische Oper were, among various titles, Die Perlen der Cleopatra, the Oscar Straus rarity with which Dagmar Manzel and Adam Benzwi triumph, night after night, in a staging by Barrie Kosky. For comparison, the attendance of the Deutsche Oper Berlin (which has Fledermaus as a single operetta title in its program) has sunk from 74 percent to 72,5 percent in the same season.
And if you think all of this is only happening in Germany: no, there’s a new Ballo al Savoy coming up in Bergamo, Italy, in February 2020. And there’s The Flower of Hawaii at Chicago’s Folks Operetta, already this summer.
At Opera Stabile in Hamburg there is Shostakovich’s operetta Moscow, Cheryomushki on offer for the opening of the new season in September, a revival of the staging by Vera Nemirova. Märchen im Grand-Hotel will follow on 2 May, 2020.