A light-hearted muse will take the reins at the State Opera.
Ball im Savoy, an operetta revue by the Hungarian composer Paul Abraham, will return on December 31st in Prague.
A glass of sparkling wine will be waiting for the audience upon arrival and the historic State Opera building will be festively decorated.
Paul Abraham was the uncrowned “king of jazz opera”, whose stellar career was ended by the rise of Nazism in 1933. The production is a part of Musica non grata, an international music and cultural project of the Czech Republic and Germany, initiated and organized by the National Theatre in Prague and financially supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany.
“Ball im Savoy combines operetta, opera, dance and also pretty demanding acting almost as Oscar Wilde’s style acting” says the Slovak stage director, Martin Čičvák. “For me, this is a kind of feminist initiation, a story about a girl, who stands up for herself, her rights and grows from a girl into a woman,” he adds.
A piece full of unexpected twists, brimming with energy and wit, Ball im Savoy was composed in Berlin in 1932 as the last in the series of Abraham’s most successful operettas – Victoria and her Hussar, The Flower of Hawaii and Ball im Savoy.
The premiere took place at the Großes Schauspielhaus in Berlin on 23 December 1932. However, when Adolf Hitler rose to the office of the chancellor, the piece was banned throughout Germany, just like the rest of Abraham’s works, forcing the author to flee Germany due to his Jewish origin.
He first turned to Hungary but continued to Paris after the world war broke out. In the end, he was forced to emigrate to the USA after staying in Havana, Cuba, for a few months. The man, who used to be nicknamed “king of jazz operetta” in Europe of the 1930s, spent his last fourteen years as a mentally ill patient of various psychiatric institutions.
The music and instrumentation of the operetta is another of its immensely interesting aspects. “Ball im Savoy is full of inspiring and innovative songs building on dances popular at the time – foxtrot, slow fox, tango, pasodoble and of course slow waltz. There are characters bringing overtones of exotic music, such as the Turkish ambassador Mustapha Bey accompanied by music of Arabic feel.
This is a work truly enchanted by jazz that resounded all over Europe in the 1930s but it also reminiscent of the regularly structured melodies that we may know, for example, from Leh.r’s operettas,” says the conductor Jan Kučera, who is in charge of the musical preparation of the piece.
The new production prepared by the National Theatre Opera and the State Opera also emphasises the visual aspect of the work. The story takes place in Nice on the French Riviera and the production draws from the poetic feeling of the 1930s combined with universal elegance and style.
“Our costumes are inspired by the French “haute couture” fashion because the story takes place in France,” says Georges Vafias, a costume designer of Greek and French origin. “The style of the costumes refers to trends from the 1960s up until now, i.e. a period – from our European perspective – of living a carefree life but also pondering the future of the world. But Ball im Savoy costumes also express the fragile future of a love, of a couple and an individual,” Vafias explains his take on the costume design.
It has been eighty-nine years since Ball im Savoy was last performed at the State Opera on 9 September 1933. The production team was led by the conductor Paul Koml.s and the stage director Renato Mordo. “They were both among the leading personalities of the New German Theatre and, being both Jewish, they were forced to leave Europe just like Abraham himself,” says Jitka Slavikova, dramaturge of the Opera.
Spectators can look forward to spectacular dance scenes performed by the special dance company and the State Opera Chorus.
The piece will be performed in the Czech translation by Vlasta Reittererová with two alternating casts, each an original with a different atmosphere and interpretation of the characters.
Eighteen more performances are scheduled until the end of the season, including one on the New Year’s Eve as a part of the popular New Year’s Eve in Opera.
Ball at the Savoy
- Music: Paul Abraham (1892–1960)
- Libretto: Alfred Grünwald (1884–1951) & Fritz L.hner-Beda (1883–1942)
- Czech translation of sung texts and Czech dialogues by Vlasta Reittererov