Sunday, 1 January 2017

Die Herzogin von Chicago – Theater Koblenz – 12 December 2016

As reviewed for a forthcoming edition of Opera Magazine.

Mark Adler (Sandor) & Emily Newton (Mary Lloyd)

Mary Lloyd – Emily Newton
Sandor Boris, Crown Prince – Mark Adler
Princess Rosemarie – Haruna Yamazaki
James Bondy – Peter Koppelmann
Count Bojazowitsch – Marcel Hoffmann
Marquis Perolin – Christof Maria Kaiser
King Pankraz XXVII/Benjamin Lloyd, Mary’s father – Wolfram Boelzle
Count Negresco – Sebastian Haake
Baron Palssy – Tobias Rathgeber

Opera Chorus & Extra Chorus, Children’s Chorus, Ballet, Statisterie
Staatsorchester Rheinische Philharmonie
Conductor – Rasmus Baumann
Director & Scenery – Michiel Dijkema
Costumes – Alexandra Pitz
Choreography – Steffen Fuchs

Emily Newton (Mary Lloyd, centre)
Emmerich Kálmán’s Die Herzogin von Chicago managed an initial run of 242 performances at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 1928 and, although it subsequently fell out of fashion (it failed in off-Broadway try-outs), in recent years it has become one of his more revived later works, especially since its recording by Richard Bonynge as part of Decca’s Entartete Musik series in the late 1990s. This winter it has taken to the stage of Theater Koblenz in an imaginative and well-paced new production directed and designed by Michiel Dijkema (costumes by Alexandra Pitz).

The operetta is very much of its time, blending American jazz with the native Hungarian style around a plot that stages the ‘battle’ between the Old and New Worlds – not a hundred miles away from the theme of Krenek’s opera Jonny spielt auf, which had swept Europe the previous season and which can’t have gone unnoticed by Kálmán. Moreover, the operetta’s character of a black saxophonist, Bobby, went on to become the ‘poster boy’ of the Nazis’ cultural propaganda in the late 1930s, while its Hungarian-Jewish composer fled to the USA itself.

An American millionaire’s daughter, Mary Lloyd, rises to the challenge set by her peer group (the likes of Edith Rockefeller, Maud Carnegie, Daisy Vanderbilt, even a timely late addition for the Koblenz production, Emilia Trump) to outdo each other in buying up old Europe. She lands herself the estate of an impoverished royal family in the Balkans and inevitably falls for the hereditary prince, but there’s a problem: he won’t dance the Charleston with her, only the csárdás. It’s slender stuff, and the denouement, in which the impasse is saved by the arrival of a Hollywood director demanding an American-style happy ending, seems too glib. But the show is saved by its music, a succession of numbers that cleverly sets off the two competing styles of dance, and which the Koblenz performers had down to a T.

Texan soprano Emily Newton, guesting from the ensemble in Dortmund, is becoming an experienced hand in this kind of repertoire, and has the starry sense of presence to hold the stage, a convincing way of rounding out stock romantic leads and a subtle and lyrical vocal command. She also obviously had fun with the text’s cod-American-German, as did Peter Koppelmann as her private secretary James Bondy, an original character name that seems set up for latter-day allusions to 007. Mark Adler proved a fine lyric tenor as Prince Sandor and Haruna Yamazaki’s sonorous mezzo as the rival love interest, Princess Rosemarie, bodes well for her upcoming Octavian with the company. The chorus was its usual powerful self (an impression garnered from last season’s Peter Grimes), the children’s chorus excelled, the ballet corps added its own pizazz and the orchestra, though light on strings given the need to fit a sizeable wind section into this bijou theatre’s diminutive pit, had bite and suavity under the energetic direction of Rasmus Baumann.