When the brainchild of Third Eye Theatre Ensemble decided to host a fundraiser this month based on the title of Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi’s The Filthy Habit, the opera we’re performing for this year’s Chicago Fringe Festival (running August 31st-September 11th, 2016), I decided to do research on opera in the 1920s. I was surprised to discover that arguably some consider this decade to have produced some of the most wildly creative opera ever!
Arnold Schoenberg explored expressionism in opera as early as 1909, with his 30 minute monodrama, Erwartung (translation ‘Expectation’, first performed in 1924). Like expressionist poets and painters before him, Schoenberg abandoned the traditional way to represent his protagonist’s mental turmoil, as she searches for her lover and discovers his corpse. Other examples are Paul Hindemith’s Sancta Susanna (1922), where he used experimental variations to portray a nun’s descent into madness. In 1926, Kurt Weill used pantomime in Der Protagonist. What is considered the most successful expressionist opera is Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, which has particularly strong elements of realism, and sets the hero’s mental disintegration against a background of varied musical structures.
In the mid 1920s, Neoclassicism was in vogue with operas by Ferruccio Busoni (Doktor Faust), which was a response to medieval puppet plays about Faust. Hindemith scored the macabre Cardillac, which is based on ETA Hoffmann’s story about a goldsmith who commits murder rather than parting with the work he loves.
An exploration of this nature cannot be spoken of without mentioning the influence of popular music of this era on opera. This was called Zeitoper (literally ‘opera of the time’) and showcased operas that featured contemporary settings, jazz and cabaret music along with satirical plots. Examples would include Max Brand’s Maschinist Hopkins, which includes a chorus of machines and a ‘Black-Bottom’ jazz number. Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage (translated-‘News of the Day’) deals with divorce. Weill’s Der Zar lasst sich photographieren (translated-‘Tsar Has His Photograph Taken’) features a pre-recorded Tango and Foxtrot. And lastly, Ernst Krenek, brought fantasy to Zeitoper in Jonny spielt auf (translated-‘Jonny Strikes Up’) about a jazz violinist who steals a violin from a classical virtuoso to herald in the ‘new’ age of jazz. It was quite the spectacle featuring a singing glacier, an onstage car chase, and a train accident.
So there you have it, a glimpse of opera in the 1920’s. Please join us on Saturday, April 23rd, for a fundraising event, ‘Filthy Habits’, hosted by Tealula-Tea Boutique and Tasting Bar (which that night will be turned into a speakeasy), 11 S. Fairview Ave. Park Ridge IL 60068 . All the proceeds go to Third Eye Theatre Ensemble. Starts at 7:30pm. Jazz era music and naughty frivolity exudes! Admission is $35 and tickets can be purchased at www.eventbrite.com. It will be the bees knees kids! Hope to see you there!