Ball at the Savoy

Paul Abraham

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#operetta

Conductor: Jan Kučera
Director: Martin Čičvák
State Opera Orchestra and Chorus

Attention! The best-known work by Paul Abraham, the king of 1930s European operetta, is rolling like a tsunami to the State Opera in Prague! The music of Ball im Savoy, depicting a crazy story abounding in witty conspiracies, mistaken identities and amorous sparkle, blends jazz, czardas, tango, Viennese waltz, klezmer, as well as dance creations à la Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The production, directed by Martin Čičvák, will be conducted by Jan Kučera. The lead role of Madeleine de Faublas has been assigned to two dangerously beautiful sopranos with angelic voices: Vanda Šípová and Doubravka Součková.

In Czech language with German and English subtitles.

Dates

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Music: Paul Abraham (1892–1960)
Libretto: Alfred Grünwald (1884–1951) & Fritz Löhner-Beda (1883–1942)
Czech translation of the vocal texts and Czech dialogues: Vlasta Reittererová

By 1932, when the Hungarian composer Paul Abraham completed Ball im Savoy (Ball at the Savoy), he had garnered enormous acclaim with the operettas Viktoria und ihr Husar (Victoria and Her Hussar), dating from 1930, and Die Blume von Hawaii (The Flower of Hawaii) from 1931. At the time, the wealthy artist was living in a sumptuous Rococo-style villa in Berlin, mingling with the city’s crème de la crème and throwing lively parties, while frenetically composing operettas and film music, and conducting. Abraham’s social whirl seems to have reflected in Ball im Savoy, depicting a “crazy“ story abounding in humorous conspiracies, mistaken identities and amorous sparkle, with the central plot being mistrust between a newly-wed couple caused by suspected infidelity after returning from a lengthy honeymoon. The music, a pell-mell of jazz, klezmer, a variety of European and American dances, including czardas and tango, as well as elements of Viennese operetta, presents a happy-go-lucky world, with the score containing several smash hits, with the most notable songs being Toujours l’amour (Love Everlasting), Kangaroo, Wenn wir Türken küssen (When We Turks Kiss) and the tongue twister Es ist so schön am Abend bummeln zu geh’n (It’s So Nice to Go for an Evening Stroll). Just like in every true operetta, Ball im Savoy features resplendent soprano arias and mesmerizing love duets, but the audience can also savour musical and burlesque scenes à la Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. By and large, the operetta affords an ultimately escapist entertainment!

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Ball im Savoy was produced by the Rotter brothers, Germany’s most prominent impresarios. The premiere, which took place in Berlin on 23 December 1932, boasted a stellar cast, with the celebrated singers Gitta Alpár, Herbert Ernst Groh, Oszkár Dénes and Rózsi Bársony portraying the lead roles. The opening performance, at the 3,300-seat Grosses Schauspielhaus, was a sensation. The operetta’s “glamorous premiere was such a tremendous success that the Grosses Schauspielhaus is set for a long time to come,” wrote one of the Berlin critics, without anticipating how prophetic his words would be. The Austrian critic Ernst Décsey even branded Abraham “a Stravinsky of modern operetta”.

While the democratic press lavished praise, Joseph Goebbels’s newspaper, Der Angriff (The Attack), scorned the show. “The most expensive stars were hired who were supposed to bring some pizzazz into the place with all their skills. So alongside empty scenes that only had revue razzle dazzle, there were a few scenes that might have been pleasing in their light colourful nature if one didn’t have to watch this whole theatrical apparatus that was drummed up by the Rotters to put four foreigners on the stage in the harsh footlights; if one didn’t have to listen to three actors who were paid huge sums of money to mangle our German language; and if the foreign composer Abraham weren’t on the conductor’s podium.”

In consequence of the tumultuous political development, the triumph was short-lived. Barely a month after the premiere, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and the days of Ball im Savoy were numbered. The lives of its creators and the stars of the production transformed utterly. Due to their Jewish ancestry, Abraham, the Rotters, Alpár, Bársony and Dénes had to leave the country. The last performance of the operetta was held on 2 April 1933. Abraham fled Germany in haste. When departing from Berlin, he lamented: “I wanted to die in this city. But why do I have to go? Just because I’m circumcised?” Abraham left about 300 song manuscripts at his villa, which his butler allegedly sold to inferior non-Jewish, mostly Nazi-supporting, composers, who went on to publish them under their own names. Consequently, Abraham’s “unwanted” music lived on in Nazi Germany. Yet that provided little consolation to the composer, whose fame while living abroad never equalled that he had attained in Berlin. Abraham died in New York impoverished and ravaged by mental illness. A cruel absurdity of fate …

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Conductor: Jan Kučera 
Director: Martin Čičvák
Set Design: Hans Hoffer  
Costumes: Georges Vafias 
Light Design: Jan Dörner  
Choreography: Laco Cmorej, Silvia Beláková 
Chorusmaster: Adolf Melichar
Dramaturgy: Jitka Slavíková

Madeleine de Faublas: Vanda Šípová / Doubravka Součková
Marquis Aristide de Faublas, her husband: Csaba Kotlár / Jiří Hájek 
Daisy Darlington alias José Pasodoble, jazz composer: Lucie Hájková / Barbora Řeřichová 
Mustapha Bey, Turkish ambassador: Tomáš Kořínek / Josef Moravec / Daniel Matoušek
Tangolita, Argentine dancer: Angela Nwagbo / Linda Fernandez 
Archibald, Aristide's servant: Vladimír Kratina / Richard Haan
Célestin Formant, lawyer: Marek Frňka / Jakub Svojanovský / Viktor Javořík

René: Petr Jeřábek / Marek Frňka
Owner of a tailor's shop: Marek Frňka / Zbyněk Šporc
Waiter: Štěpán Piller / Petr Špinar
Bebé: Elena Trčková / Barbora Šampalíková
Paulette: Barbora Šampalíková / Kristýna Štarhová
Lilly: Alžběta Trembecká / Markéta Šandová

Women's company
Tereza Holubová, Aneta Kafková, Eliška Kenclová, Klára Kočárková, Anna Metlická, Karolína Pompelová, Barbora Šampalíková, Kristýna Štarhová, Klára Šútovská, Alžběta Trembecká, Markéta Šandová, Elena Trčková

Men's company
Štěpán Piller, Petr Jeřábek, Petr Špinar, Marek Frňka, Zbyněk Šporc, Žeňa Lisovik, David Mikula, Michal Soukup, Jan Adam, Daniel Rybnicki, Jakub Ressler, Marek Červinka

State Opera Orchestra
State Opera Chorus

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