The First “Operetten Festival” in Berlin, at the Komische Oper

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
1 June, 2014

You will probably remember that the Komische Oper Berlin has had quite a few remarkable operetta productions lately, ever since the new intendant Barrie Kosky took over and decided to make operetta and musical comedy one of the cornerstones of his repertoire. So far, there has been one staged operetta a season, plus a concert production at Christmas time. All of these productions have been super hits: Paul Abraham’s Ball im Savoy and Nico Dostal’s Clivia being the stand out examples here.

This week, the Komische Oper announced the titles for next season. And if you thought the offerings of the past were pretty spectacular, then get ready for what is coming up. It’s breathtaking, mildly put. On October 11, the first new production of the 2014/2015 season will be Offenbach’s Belle Hélène, announced as “Monty Python à la française.”  It’s not only a long overdue return of this opéra-bouffe to the Berlin stage, but also a great joy to read that Kosky will stage it himself, together with choreographer Otto Pichler. That beach scene in act 3 might be more bouncy than ever before – or at least as bouncy as it was at the world premiere in 1864. Whether Nicole Chevalier in the title role will do the “full monty” as did her famous predecessors, Hortense Schneider and Marie Geistinger, remains to be seen. We’re shivering with anticipation.

Next season’s Christmas offering is Emmerich Kalman’s last operetta, Arizona Lady (1953/54), an infectious cowboy romp, given a concert treatment on December 21 and 30. In the lead role: Katharine Mehrling and her magical lasso. The role of the female Mexican singer Bonita is gender bendingly cast with Stefan Sevenich, which could turn out the be interesting. We here at ORCA have to admit that it’s been one of our ultimate dreams to see this glorious operetta – bridging the gap between Berlin, Vienna, Broadway and the Wild West again, after all those Nazi years and their aesthetic aftermath – on a big stage at last. It’ll hopefully be a revival to generate new interest in the transatlantic side of operetta. “Transatlantic Kalman” had already been the focal point of the last concert productions: the shimmy-crazy Bajadere (1921) and the charleston-mad Herzogin von Chicago (1928).

Right on the heels of this event, there is a new staging of Oscar Straus’ Eine Frau, die weiß, was sie will (1932). You might remember, it’s the last show Fritzi Massary appeared in on a Berlin stage before the Nazis drove her out of the country. And you might also remember the two famous numbers from that show that Massary recorded, “Warum soll eine Frau kein Verhältnis haben?” and “Ich bin eine Frau, die weiß, was sie will.” The Komische Oper has lined up a veritable dream team for their Oscar Straus revival: Dagmar Manzel and Max Hopp, who will play all the parts in various disguises. Adam Benzwi is conducting.

It’s like Christmas in January, something to look forward to. (By the way, there will be more Oscar Straus on offer in the future.)

Talking of looking forward to something: The Komische Oper is combining all of their operetta hits into a festival next season. So, for the first time, there will be an “Operetten Festival” from January 23 to February 8. On offer, anything from Ball im Savoy via Fledermaus to Clivia, Hélène and Eine Frau, die weiß, was sie will. On January 27, there’s a concert entitled “Von Warschau zum Broadway: jiddische Operettenlieder.” With Barrie Kosky at the piano (!) and Helene Schneiderman and Alma Sadé singing.

Considering that there is no German operetta festival at all – if you don’t count the Austrian versions with their limited repertoire – then this Berlin offering is ground breaking and a long overdue event that will ideally grow and grow over the years. Of course, such an intense offering spread out over two weeks is ideal for tourists because they can overdose on operetta while visiting Berlin.

Book now. And we’ll see you at one of these many marvels! More information here.