Two different faces of modern European opera, and two different music and theatre universes will be presented at the State Opera within a single evening. The double bill will be made up of one-acters by Kurt Weill and Arnold Schönberg, renowned 20th-century music innovators. The former’s Die sieben Todsünden (The Seven Deadly Sins) and the latter’s Erwartung (Expectation) share subject matter that may be defined as “the woman (and the world)”, which, however, the two approximately 30-minute works treat in a totally different manner. In his satirical miniature, to a libretto by the German playwright Bertold Brecht, a fierce critic of bourgeois society, Weill shows “the woman in the world”, raising the question: what must a woman do so that her narrow-minded and hypocritical family consider her “virtuous”, that is, economically successful. The opera Die sieben Todsünden premiered in Paris in 1933. Weill afforded Brecht’s brutally sarcastic story a certain levity, with his score being inspired by the then highly popular jazz and cabaret music.
In Schönberg’s monodrama Erwartung, Weill’s female theme is turned inside out, providing a view of “the world within the woman”. The opera takes the form of a monologue for the single character simply called Woman, expressing a plethora of contradictory emotions resulting from the loss of her lover. Schönberg’s librettist, the poet and doctor Marie Pappenheim, set the monologue in a mysterious night-time forest, with the atmosphere and motifs allowing for a variety of interpretations – from the naturalistic, through the symbolistic to the psychoanalytical. Schönberg’s monodrama differs from Weill’s “opera-cabaret” not only as regards the subject, but also, and essentially, due to its expressionist musical idiom, serving to augment and flesh out that which Woman passes through within, the “world within the woman”. A major work of opera modernism, Erwartung is historically connected with Prague, even directly with today’s State Opera, the former Neues deutsches Theater, where in 1924 it received its world premiere, conducted by Alexander Zemlinsky.
The entirely female subject of the two operas will be treated on stage by the Czech director Barbora Horáková Joly, who has primarily worked in Western Europe, where she has garnered several coveted accolades. Her first engagement at the State Opera in Prague was at the beginning of 2021, when she presented her adaptation of Guiseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. The music will be explored by Jiří Rožeň, one of the most gifted young Czech conductors.