“Arizona Lady” Comes To Arizona Opera In October 2015

Michael H. Hardern
Operetta Research Center

The Jewish News reports on the upcoming first performance of the complete Arizona Lady by Emmerich Kalman – in (get ready for it) Arizona itself! The opera house in Tucson will present Kalman’s last work on October 10, 2015, in a production by Matthew Ozawa, “using as his inspiration all the vaudeville theatricality from the early 20th century.”

Poster for the Arizona Opera production of "Arizona Lady" 2015.

Poster for the Arizona Opera production of “Arizona Lady” 2015.

There have been small-scale and concert productions of Arizona Lady recently, most notably at the Komische Oper Berlin with a superlative cast that included Serkan Kaya and Katharine Mehrling.

It will be interesting to hear and see how the over-the-top slapstick humor of the Berlin performance will compare with the new Tuscan version. Jewish News quotes Joshua Borths, Arizona Opera outreach manager: “Making Arizona Lady work for modern audiences was a group effort.” The opera got permission from the Kalman estate to rewrite certain parts of the dialogue and translate it into English, and to write an orchestral score since there was no full conductor score in existence. Arizona State University professor and Arizona poet laureate Alberto Rios worked with director Ozawa and conductor Kathleen Kelly to translate parts of Arizona Lady into Spanish to “create complex, well-rounded characters”; in the original production, some of the Hispanic characters were treated very “perjoratively,” Borths says.

The result is a “really light, fun, lush” production in German, English and Spanish, Borths says.

Emmerich Kalman and his family arriving in New York in May 1940. Yvonne Kalman can be seen sitting on her mother's knee. (Photo: ORCA)

Emmerich Kalman and his family arriving in New York in May 1940. Yvonne Kalman can be seen sitting on her mother’s knee. (Photo: ORCA)

For the opening, Yvonne Kalman will be in attendance, as in Berlin and Chicago when they performed Arizona Lady. She says that she is excited to see her father’s final work performed as a full operetta for the first time. In a short interview with Jewish News Yvonne Kalman said: “In 1940, Emmerich Kalman, celebrated Hungarian Jewish operetta composer, was living in Paris with his wife and baby daughter when a Nazi general paid him a visit: Adolf Hitler wanted Kalman to return to Vienna, where he had been living, and become an honorary Aryan. Right after that day, my father got us all on the next ship … and it ended up being one of the last ships that came to the United States.”

Of course that Honorary Aryan story was brought into circulation by Yvonne’s mother, Vera Kalman. And like many of her stories it is pure fantasy.

It’s somewhat disturbing to have the Jewish News – of all possible outlets – revive this myth, instead of discussing the real facts about a Jewish composer having to emigrate to the USA in the face of Nazi terror.

(It would be rather interesting to discuss Kalman’s possible behavior if Hitler had indeed offered him the title of Honorary Aryan and made him a direct competition to his official favorite composer, Franz Lehár.)

Kentucky Derby scene from "Arizona Lady." (Photo: Arizona Opera)

Kentucky Derby scene from “Arizona Lady.” (Photo: Arizona Opera)

Selections from Arizona Lady are also on the program of “Rediscovered Voices: The Music and Stories of Jewish Composers,” the free concert that will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, at Congregation Beth Israel, 10460 N. 56th St., Scottsdale. Presented in partnership with the Center for Jewish Studies at ASU, and funded by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, the concert will also feature works by “Brundibar” composer Hans Krasa, Erich Korngold and Kurt Weill. Register at azopera.org/events/rediscovered-voices-music-stories-jewish-composers.

If you go to the website of Arizona Opera, you can download Arizona Lady ringtones for iPhone and Android. (This is for advanced operetta aficionadoes.)

There will be two performances in Tucson, and three in Phoenix. For further information, click here.

Soprano Angela Fout as Lona in "Arizona Lady." (Photo: Arizona Opera)

Soprano Angela Fout as Lona in “Arizona Lady.” (Photo: Arizona Opera)

There is one comment

  1. Gerald Frantzen

    We produced this show in 2010 in Chicago with Chicago Folks Operetta. We made the show work without rewriting it. I am sure that this is where Mr. Ozawa got the idea to produce it in Arizona. A dubious claim to call it the American premiere on his part, Regardless we were glad to see another company do this most deserving show. We were fortunate to have Ms. Kálmán attend our production. We are very proud of our English translation which was honest and true to the original intentions of the composer.