Operetta Research Center
30 September, 2015
Leaving titles such as Arabian Nights, Kismet and Desert Song aside, the Middle East is not generally a region which you would associate with operettas actually being performed. Not only because the musical tradition from which operetta comes from is sound-worlds apart for what you would call Arabic music and musical tastes. But also, because most operettas are sexually charged in a way not accepted in Muslim countries. Not to mention the amounts of alcohol consumed in operettas. They make the genre even more problematic for the Arab world. Still, the Budapest Operetta Theater is going to embark on its first tour of the region: presenting Csardasfürstin in Oman and a potpourri of Hungarian classics in Qatar.
The newspaper The Peninsula recently reported that the Hungarian Ambassador to Qatar, Elter Istvan, met with Dr. Khalid bin Ibrahim Al Sulaiti to discuss “strengthening cultural ties, by organizing events and activities that spread awareness about Hungarian culture in Qatar.” One of the agreed-upon events will be an operetta concert on November 17. This is organized by the Hungarian company Pentaton Concerts. They are the ones organizing the Middle Eastern tour for the Budapest ensemble. Just prior to the visit to Qatar there will be two full performances of Kalman’s Csardasfürstin at the Royal Opera House in Muscat.
After the performances in Oman with 120 people in the company, the Budapesti Operettszínhás will present a mixed operetta gala with 60 people in Doha, at Qatar’s Cultural Village. While the rest of the company heads back home to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Die Csárdásfürstin in Budapest with an international operetta gala, also on 17 November.
The dashing opera house of Oman – with a giant organ on stage, because the Sheik is a fan of organ music (the instrument can be removed from the stage, don’t worry) – is attempting to bring “classic” Western musical theater to the country. The question is: how? Csardasfürstin is about “a lascivious diva in a night club, drinking champagne and tokay from start to finish”. That is obviously not what you can show in Oman. For the performance there, a speaker for Pentaton told ORCA, they had to get rid of all sexual and drinking elements in Csardasfürstin:
“No kissing, only hugs, no champagne!” Anhilte will drink “a delicious peach smoothie” at the party scene of act 2.
“But it is definitely interesting, and I am glad all the work we put into this project during the last year has paid off”, says András Szentpéteri, managing director of Pentaton.
The concert in Doha will present mostly Kalman titles (and some Lehar and Johann Strauss). Not just the eternal Kalman blockbusters, but also The Little Dutch Girl. All of them purified for local consumption. I recall that the head of the newly founded Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra told me, years ago, that he couldn’t perform Carmina Burana in Doha because that would involve a singing pig – and pigs are a non-no in the country. When they wanted to present a ballet by Tchaikovsky, that also required a special permission from the sheik because there were men and women on stage together – touching!
It shall be interesting to see how the people of Oman and Qatar will react to Hungarian operetta in this “family friendly” version.
Whether the glory of European operetta can be understood if you sanitize the genre, even more radically than post-WW2 societies did in Europe and the USA, remains to be seen. Considering that Sigmund Romberg was actually born in Hungary, it might be interesting to show his Desert Song on the next outing of the company to the Middle East. And see if audiences in Qatar and Oman can relate to such a culture-clash story of the West and the Arab word. But first: “Jaj Mamán, Bruderherz!” And for the time being, we will just keep it to ourselves what is really meant with “Draußen in Hietzing gibt’s a Remasuri” from Wiener Blut, that worst of all worst marriage infidelity operettas on the program in Doha on November 17.