Solveig Steinhardt just can't get enough of German operetta.
An eccentric night out at the Komische Oper.
Of the three opera houses in Berlin, the Komische Oper is undoubtedly the most eccentric one: Sets made entirely of cartoon animation, polyglot productions, and casts mixing opera singers and cabaret stars give classic pieces a whole
new twist. It all started in 2012, when Australian art director Barrie Kosky landed at the Komische Oper with a bag filled with new experimental concepts. Since then, the once all- German opera house has become more international and technological, with electronic screens displaying surtitles in four languages at every seat, a brand-new program exploring broad horizons of music, and a side schedule filled with quirky activities, including makeup workshops on how to create a bald head, or the yearly sale of original stage costumes, an event that keeps Berliners in line for hours.
But fresh and fun ideas aren't the only thing Barrie Kosky brought to Berlin; by rediscovering long-lost music scores from Berlin's pre-WWII era, he also revived an entire musical genre, the German operetta. Banned by the Nazis for being decadent, foreign, and "too Jewish," the Berlin operetta combined cabaret, jazz, and musical, and could be seen as a predecessor of the Broadway show. One great example of this is Paul Abraham's Ball at the Savoy, performed for the last time in 1932 before Hitler's ban. This captivating musical blend of klezmer, gypsy music, and jazz tells the story of a newly married high-society couple who struggles to remain faithful amid promiscuous dances, farce-like plots involving Turkish diplomats and servants, and fast-moving scenes, eventually ending with the triumph of love when the two get back together and forgive each other's sentimental weaknesses. Catch it on 8, 16, and 30 April. For more Weimar- era flavor, the show Heute Nacht oder nie, scheduled for 6 and 27 April, presents a collection of the best satirical cabaret songs by Russian Jewish composer Mischa Spolianski, whose erotic and daring shows perfectly embodied the Berlin of the 1920s. Although his name never achieved the fame of some of his contemporaries, such as the cabaret composer Friedrich Hollaender, Spolianski's operettas enjoyed great success in Berlin, sometimes even starring Marlene Dietrich herself.
A scene from Ball at The Savoy. Inset, below: Heute Neacht oder nie.