Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deutsche Musicale

Somehow this is turning out to be a weekend thus far of immersion in German music. Right now I'm at home on Saturday afternoon listening to the Met's final live broadcast of this season, the fourth and final opera of Wagner's Ring--Goetterdaemerung--where all those wonderful themes of heroism, the Rhine, the Valkyries, keep coming at you. My immersion will continue because a friend invited me to attend the dress rehearsal Wednesday (6 PM--11 PM) of theWashington National Opera's Siegfried, the third and not anywhere as interesting opera in the Ring cycle. Even if the opera in general and Wagner in particular leaves you a bit cold, listening to Goetterdaemerung is almost irresistible because of the sheer beauty of the music. It's also fun listening on radio to imagine the carrying out of his stage directions--the collapse of Valhalla and the Rhine overflowing its banks. The Met's production--very realistic and being performed for the last time--does a good job on the buildings of Valhalla crashing down. The Rhine overflowing is a bit beyond it capabilities.

Last night we took in Berliner Kabaret at the Source Theatre, performed by The IN Series, the musical organization run for more than two decades by Carla Hubner, who has managed to maintain this series from its days at the Hand Chapel at the old Mount Vernon College campus, now part of George Washington University. My favorite productions have been her Mozart-DaPonte operas--the Las Vegas version of The Marriage of Figaro and the Long Island version of Don Giovanni. These have fun with the indestructible music and lyrics by making the Count sort of a Wayne newton character and the Don a Don of The Godfather's kind of organization. The show last night featured lots of songs from Berlin in the '20s, many by Kurt Weill and some of those and others with lyrics by Bertoldt Brecht. Staples such as Falling in Love Again and Lili Marlene filled out the bill. Carla always has singers with fine voices and here there were three wonderful women singing with two men who managed to keep up with them, barely. But most of the good songs are for the women anyway. Washington is a small musical world--Carla teaches at Levine School of Music where Vanessa studied violin--so the pianist for the evening was Alice Mikolajewski, who accompanied Vanessa at many of her recitals. She also accompanied on accordion for the Useless Song (from The Threepenny Opera) which came off wonderfully. The prevailing impression, of course, is that everyone in Berlin then was either a drunk or a whore. And the interpolated recitations (ranging from George Grosz to Hitler) didn't add a whole lot. But for those of us who especially love Kurt Weill music, there was a lovely rendition of Surabaya Johnny and the lesser Alabama Song. All that was missing was Pirate Jenny. This was from Berlin, and much was sung in the original German, so we did not get to hear the Weill music after he emigrated to the U.S., such as September Song.

The Kabaret reminded me of my having seen Marlene Dietrich in what must have been one of her last performances, probably more than 30 years ago, at the North Shore Summer Theatre off Route 128 above Boston. The old gal was likely in her 80s, a bit unsteady of foot, and had her gaze permanently fixed on her conductor of the lush string orchestra (a standard part of the retinue of famed aged performers, such as Pavarotti). Since she never had that much of a pure voice, she was still able to provide a good evening's entertainment and needless to say, the crowd went crazy at her finale of Falling in Love Again. I also recalled two other performances of hers worth remembering: her Christine Helm in the film of Agatha Christie's Witness For the Prosecution, opposite Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton, and her live appearance way back in the '50s, when I accompanied my dad to opening night at Madison Square Garden (the old one on 49th & Eighth) of Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey, where she fulfilled the vision of every man's fantasy dressed as the ringmistress with whip for the circus. This was an opening night only appearance, and the other star of the show was Marilyn Monroe atop a pink elephant.

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