Das deutschsprachige Operettenlibretto: Figuren, Stoffe, Dramaturgie

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
15 May, 2013

2013 began with some major new publications. One is Heike Quissek’s PhD Das deutschsprachige Operettenlibretto: Figuren, Stoffe, Dramaturgie, written at the University of Bamberg. It is a 340 page study of what types of German language operetta there are, what topics are being dealt with and which stereotypical characters appear in Austrio-German operetta from mid 19th century till the end of World War II. The aim of Quissek is to draft general types of operetta, but she also attempts to pin down what actually “defines” an operetta as compared to a Singspiel, comic opera etc.

The cover of Heike Quissek's book.

The cover of Heike Quissek’s book.

Along the way there are many truly fascinating chapters, e. g. on cross dressing, “Operetten-Neger”, and “Amerikaner”, to name but a few. Also the chapters on Erik Charell, “Revueoperette” or “Operette unterm Hakenkreuz” are very worthwhile because they deal with aspects rarely covered sofar in university studies. (Not to mention the chapter/topic “Erotik und Sex”.) Yet, while the addition of information is impressive, the actual interpretation Quissek gives is rarely new or very far reaching. Which is sad. Because after 290 pages of analysis, there are only one and a half pages of “conclusion” (“Ergebnis”). The conclusion being that it’s impossible to define what makes an operetta an operetta. Quissek writes:

“Grundsätzlich, so lässt sich zusammenfassen, positioniert sich die ideologisch und dramaturgisch nicht klar zu definierende Gattung zwischen Volks- und Avantgardetheater. […] All das hat als Operette zu gelten, was die Autoren so bezeichnet wissen wollen und was an den entsprechenden Theatern als solche aufgeführt wird.”

As much as I personally enjoyed reading this book by the literary scholar (“Literaturwissenschaftlerin”), dramaturg and stage director Quissek, and as wonderful as it is that the Operetta Research Center Amsterdam is positively mentioned and quoted so often throughout, I have a problem with the fact that the discussion of the word “operetta” in German is extensive (“Der Operettenbegriff”) and that Offenbach is named as the creator of the genre in the modern sense of the word, yet nowhere does Quissek mention the fact that Offenbach called his musical theater pieces “opera bouffe” and not operetta, which was the name given to them in Vienna and Germany. It would have been an interesting discussion to check how “opera bouffe” differs from “operetta”, and if there are already differences noticeable in the performance of Offenbach shows in Paris and Vienna in the 1850s and 60s.

My other problem is: the extensive bibliography lists many individual articles and essays plus the books they are from – which is helpful in many cases – yet omits some ground breaking books such as Kurt Gänzl’s thee volume Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, to name but one.

This omission is astonishing, considering that Gänzl’s encyclopedia offers extensive information on nearly every show Quissek deals with in her book.
Still, it’s a book that will most likely become a classic of its kind. Since it’s published by J. B. Metzler one can assume that every university library will have it in their shelves in the future, it will thus influence generations of students. Which is wonderful, because Quissek sums up many discussions that have been going on in the operetta world in the last 20 years. And she frees herself – and operetta research – from the long shadow of “Operettenpapst” Volker Klotz, whose ideologically problematic operetta interpretations exclusively informed the discussion of the genre for too long.

Heike Quissek
Das deutschsprachige Operettenlibretto: Figuren, Stoffe, Dramaturgie
340 pages, J. B. Metzler 2012, 59,95 Euro

The other great new book – also in German (sorry, English and American ORCA-fans!) – is a collection of essays dealing with jazz music in Vienna in the 20th century: Jazz Unlimited. Beiträge zur Jazz-Rezeption in Österreich. Two of these essays chronicle the advance of American popular music in the early years of the last century, and include operetta in a most fascinating way. The author is Konrad Nowakoswki and the essays in question are “Jazz in Wien: Die Anfänge bis zur Abreise von Arthur Briggs im Mai 1926″ and “Der Aufstand gegen die ‘Vernegerung Wiens’ Anfang 1928″. I have rarely read anything as stimulating as this! The book is published as the Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft Anklänge, i. e. it’s the year book of the Vienna Music University, edited by Christian Glanz and Manfred Permoser. It’s safe to say that this is a major achievement, especially because of the scope of the articles. Anyone interested in Kalman’s or Granichstaedten’s or Abraham’s jazz operettas of the 1920s and 30s will want to have this in order to put these operettas into a larger perspective. By the way, though Nowakoswki is a jazz historian he knows his operetta literature and includes it in his discussion. In German you would say he thinks “fachübergreifend”, which is a great new development, certainly where operetta is concerned.
Let’s hope that some of these ground-breaking studies will also find some resonance in the Anglo-American research world. Or better still: be translated! To create a more international operetta discussion; as international as the genre itself was, and hopefully one day again be.
Christian Glanz, Manfred Permoser (ed.)
ANKLAENGE 2011/2012 Wiener Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft:
Jazz Unlimited. Beiträge zur Jazz-Rezeption in Österreich
358 pages, Mille Tre Verlag 2012, 36,30 Euro


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