Sorry for the lack of pictures, but they are mostly on my iPhone and haven’t transferred them onto the computer yet, as I can’t use the USB while the internet USB stick is in (yeah I have more than one slot but the stick takes up too much damn space).
Monday, my third day in Germany, was the first business day, so I would finally be able to set up phone and internet!! In theory. Of course nothing is ever that easy in Europe. I went to the Vodaphone store and showed them my iPhone and USB stick and explained everything I needed. The woman I was dealing with didn’t speak a word of English. Which is fine, which is great, this is Germany, you should be able to speak your own language, and I need to be speaking German anyways. It’s just that it was such a complicated conversation, and I was still right off the boat and not used to German yet. I had to whip out my iPhone German-English dictionary (the only App I have ever paid $20 for, and soooo worth it) several times. Basically what they could do for me was: they told me a prepaid card with 10 Euros on it- that was the easy part. But they said they didn’t have any internet deals without a contract, and to use internet on Pay-as-you-Go would just be “very very expensive” (they never said how much, just shook their heads and said very expensive), so they told me I shouldn’t bother using internet on my phone at all. I was like, “That’s the whole reason to have an iPhone?” But they were like, yeah well it’s better if you just use internet on your computer. For the USB stick, they sold me a month’s worth of time and then some (they’re only allowed to refill your card in intervals of 25 Euros, so even though the month-long was 40 Euros, they had to charge me 50. I told them how I had tried to use it with the SIM that was already in it to no avail, and they asked if I had a Mac. Of course. I love Mac as much as any hip artsy city-dweller, but they can sure cause headaches, specially outside the US where they are not common. Anyways, she said I had to go to an internet cafe and download the right software, a version for Mac- she gave me the web site and instructions to find it.
I really did not want to head all the way back down to Starbucks, so I went home first and wondered if I couldn’t get a strong enough wifi signal to make it happen. I did get a signal, but it was very very weak and kept breaking off, with the result that I spent about 2 hours trying to download the Mac software before giving up. At least it gave me a chance to finish the book I was reading. Anyways I finally gave up and headed back down to Starbucks- in the rain, did I mention?- and quickly downloaded the software. Unfortunately, it still didn’t work. There was lots of crashing and freezing and error messages and just generally things not working. I walked back up to Vodafone in the rain, getting there 10 minutes after they closed. But home in time to get a quick nap in before meeting my friend JRL for dinner.
The next day I went back to Vodafone and brought my computer with me. The guy, who also didn’t seem to speak any English, decided that the website didn’t have the latest update for Mac, and found it on a Flash Drive. We had to play around with changing a lot of settings, but after a big investment of time, we got it working. I took it home and was online. At last!!!
Another exciting advancement for the day was my first phone call in German. I successfully reserved a practice room, as I’m not comfortable singing in the apartment (though I’ll have to be soon, as I can’t keep schlepping all the way across town and paying just to sing in an empty room). The phone wasn’t that bad, I made sure to speak slowly on purpose so the woman would think I was worse at German than I actually am and keep it easy for me.
After practicing, I went to the DDR Museum, which was very fun! It was meant to be a pretty light-hearted museum, full of things to play with. It basically showcased everyday aspects of life in former East Germany, from the infamous concrete slab apartments, to the TV shows they watched, to the clothes they wore (the horror!!). It’s really weird to think of this whole other world, like an alternate universe, that existed so recently.
Unfortunately I had not entirely recovered from my long walk on Saturday, and the couple of hours I spent standing at the museum put me back into pain. So I didn’t do anything that night but try to stay off my feet.
This December will be my first time performing the role of Zerbinetta in its entirety, but I’ve known it was practically designed for me since I first laid eyes on it. That’s why in college I wrote a music history paper on Ariadne auf Naxos. I can’t say its my best writing- I mean it was undergrad music history class in a conservatory, I wasn’t overly concerned with my prose (I probably spent 4 weeks reading and researching and then wrote the whole thing the night before)- but hopefully you can still get something out of it. I’m not going to have my adult self fact-check my 2001-self’s research, but I’m pretty sure it’s right on. So, enjoy!
The Making (and Re-Making) of Ariadne auf Naxos
In a letter to Richard Strauss, a letter discussing many operas and current projects, Hugo von Hofmannsthal mentions as an aside:
“…and by this I mean something important, not the thirty minute opera for small chamber orchestra which is as good as complete in my head; it is called Ariadne auf Naxos and is made up of a combination of heroic mythological figures in 18th-century costume with hooped skirts and ostrich feathers and, interwoven in it, characters from the commedia dell’arte, harlequins and scaramouches representing the buffo element which is throughout interwoven with the heroic…” (3/20/1911)
This concept was the beginning of the generation of Ariadne auf Naxos, a unique opera by Strauss and Hofmannsthal. The process of creating this opera would be a difficult one for both librettist and composer, and would be drawn out over several years. Originally conceived as incidental music and interludes for a Molière play, Ariadne later became a self-standing opera, following its relative failure throughout Germany. Today it is a beloved piece in the standard opera repertoire. But its history is troubled and messy.
Hofmannsthal originally wanted to create this piece as a tribute to Max Reinhardt, who was the director who premiered Der Rosenkavalier. He saw the Molière play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme in France and decided that it would be perfect for the project. The play has five interludes for ballet and song. Hofmannsthal reworked the play to fit into two acts, and Strauss wrote the music for the interludes. The highlight of the evening was to be the final “interlude.” It was to be a performance that the main character had arranged for: a new opera, Ariadne auf Naxos. So the audience would watch the classic Molière comedy with incidental music, and then see the premier of a new opera by Richard Strauss worked into the play.
The Molière comedy dates from 1670. It tells the story of a bourgeois (middle-class) man, Monsieur Jourdain, who is obsessed with being seen as a gentleman, a member of the upper class. He makes a complete fool of himself, hiring music, dance, fencing, and philosophy instructors, having outrageous outfits made for himself, and attempting to court a Marchioness- all to the shame and embarrassment of his wife and daughter. The action of the play involves a Count who flatters him to keep borrowing money from him, who is truly himself courting the Marchioness; his daughter, Lucile, who is in love with a bourgeois man, Cléonte, whom her father will not allow her to marry because he is not a gentleman (although the script makes it clear that he is truly in the same class as the Jourdain); and the maid, Nicole, who is in love with the Cléonte’s valet, Covielle. Cléonte disguises himself as the “Son of the Grand Turk” (with Covielle as “translator”), in love with Lucile, who will promote M. Jourdain to a position of nobility in Turkish society and marry his daughter. M. Jourdain undergoes a humiliating “initiation,” and agrees to the marriage. At this point, the evening’s entertainment that M. Jourdain is sponsoring will take place. This was to be the opera Ariadne auf Naxos, which Strauss and Hofmannsthal would write.
Strauss wasn’t very interested in this project at first. He was looking forward to another collaboration they were planning, Die Frau ohne Schatten. He frequently brought it up in his letters, eagerly awaiting the completion of the libretto, as he found his other present work, such as symphonies, much duller. But eventually Strauss as well became caught up in this exciting project. When Hofmannsthal first sent him the libretto, Strauss’s reaction was not negative, but cool enough to offend Hofmannsthal. The story of the opera is about the legend of Ariadne, a princess abandoned by her lover, Theseus, on the island of Naxos. She is in extreme depression and awaits only death, but then the god Bacchus comes to her. At first believing him to be death, she asks him to take her away. They quickly fall in love. This story is decorated by comic characters from the Commedia dell’arte, who try to cheer up Ariadne. Strauss’s cold reception of the libretto inspired Hofmannsthal to explain the meaning behind the story.
“Zerbinetta is in her element drifting out of the arms of one man into the arms of another; Ariadne could be the wife or mistress of one man only, just as she can be only one man’s widow, can be forsaken by only one man. One thing, however, is still left even for her: the miracle, the God. To him she gives herself, for she believes him to be Death: he is both Death and Life at once; he it is who reveals to her the immeasurable depths in her own nature, who makes of her an enchantress, the sorceress who herself transforms the poor little Ariadne; he it is who conjures up for her in this world another world beyond, who preserves her for us and at the same time transforms her.
“But what to divine souls is a real miracle, is to the earth-bound nature of Zerbinetta just an every-day love affair. She sees in Ariadne’s experience the only thing she can see: the exchange of an old lover for a new one. And so these two spiritual worlds are in the end ironically brought together in the only way in which they can be brought together: in non-comprehension (7/1911).”
Strauss now understood the opera much more clearly and was better pleased with it. But he warned Hofmannsthal that if he, the composer, couldn’t understand it right away, how could the public, and much less the critics? For this reason, Hofmannsthal had the libretto published in a literary journal before the opera’s premiere.
The collaboration was taking off at last- but clashes between the two artists arose on every topic. They had disagreements about characters, the ending, act divisions, and other assorted topics. Hofmannsthal was often upset at Strauss’s suggestions, and Strauss had a hard time dealing with Hofmannsthal’s impractical temperament. Some of the biggest arguments came not, however, over the content of the opera, but over its production. Hofmannsthal was vehement about wanting Reinhardt to direct the opera. In a lengthy letter to Strauss, he goes on and on about the subject:
“How am I to write a single line of Die Frau ohne Schatten if, over this affair, you not only upset my own relations with Max Reinhardt- and who, in the feverish world of the theatre, would ever get over a disappointment like that?- but face me with the certain prospect of having to abandon altogether every hope of Reinhardt’s assistance in the preparation of this future work; subtle and allergic to all routine as it is bound to be, and so of having to do without the very help I need about all else?…I beg of you, do not inflict on me this injury; do not injure us both, do not injure our relationship!… The subtly conceived exiguity of this play, these two groups acting beside each other in the narrowest space, this most careful calculation of each gesture, each step, the whole like a concert and at the same time like a ballet- it will be lost, meaningless, a tattered rag in incompetent hands; only in Reinhardt’s, yours and mine, can it grow into a singing flower, the incarnation of dance (12/18/1911).”
Reinhardt was finally secured for the premiere. But the location of the premiere was another problem to be worked out. The original plan was to have it at the Deutsches Theater, but Strauss realized that the theatre would be inappropriate for the play-opera. They considered many cities and finally decided on Stuttgart. Hofmannsthal had objections, but not strong enough to convince Strauss, who saw no other possibilities.
After many cast changes, the show finally premiered in Stuttgart on October 25, 1912. But the audience did not take kindly to the performance. The theatre-going crowd didn’t know what to make of the opera, and the opera-lovers were unhappy about sitting through 2 hours of Molière before getting to the opera. Critics were very hard on Hofmannsthal’s libretto. One critic writes, “Hofmannsthal adds nothing to his fame by his mutilation of the Molière comedy and the weak libretto. It is difficult to see wherein his fame is justified any how, for the Rosenkavalier libretto, too, has many objectionable features. Strauss swears by him but the operatic world does not, and it, after all, has a weighty word to speak” (Finck 266).
Eventually, Strauss and Hofmannsthal decided that the only way to save their creation is to give it a complete reworking. In 1913, they began to talk of a revision. The original plan was to take the transition scene that Hofmannsthal had written between the play and the opera, and change it to secco recitative. Instead, Hofmannsthal reworked the transition scene into a prologue. They abandoned the Molière altogether, and instead the plot focused only on the opera performance. The Prologue, extended from the original transition scene, now starred the Composer as the leading role. The characters from the opera seria and the burlesque are informed at the last minute that their performances are to run simultaneously. Zerbinetta, the lead comedienne, flirts with the composer, who agrees to the change in order to have his work performed. The curtain closes on the Prologue just as the curtain is about to go up on the opera, with the composer furiously making cuts in his music at the last minute. Then the opera itself is performed, much as planned, but without the comments thrown in by the Molière characters that were present in the original. Some other changes are made- Zerbinetta’s virtuosic aria, for one, is considerably cut and simplified. The opera was performed in this manner for the first time in 1916, and was much better received than the original version had been.
Today, the 1916 version is the only one that one is likely to see performed. But some people prefer the 1912 version. The two versions are so different that it is difficult to compare them. This opera had a challenging formation, but Strauss and Hofmannsthal succeeded in what they set out to do: they made the piece succeed, and become a well-loved part of the standard repertoire, even to this day.
Finck, Henry T. Richard Strauss: The Man and his Works. Lille, Brown & Company, Boston, 1917. Pg. 264-272.
Gilliam, Bryon. The Life of Richard Strauss. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1999. Pg. 96-101.
Hartmann, Rudolf. Richard Strauss: The Staging of his Operas and Ballets. Oxford University Press, New York, 1981. Pg. 90-107.
Kennedy, Michael. Richard Strauss: Man, Musician, Enigma. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1999. Pgs. 174-188.
Lehmann, Lotte. Five Operas and Richard Strauss. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1964. 1-22.
Molière. The Middle-Class Gentleman: A Translation of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Trans. Herma Briffault. Barron’s Educational Services, Inc., New York, 1957.
A Working Friendship: The Correspondance between Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Trans. Hanns Hammelmann and Ewald Osers. Vienna House, New York, 1961. Pg. 75-139, 152-153, 169-172, 241-250.
Pirates of Penzance opens this Sunday! Here is a guest post from chorus member and Ridgewood Gilbert and Sullivan Players treasurer Philip Sternberg, in honor of Frederick and his birthday this year.
I’ve headed this article on the theory that the mere presence of the letters S-E-X consecutively in a title will increase readership by at least 50%. Now that I have your attention, though, I’ll go into what “bissextile” really means: leap year.
The relevance of leap year to The Pirates of Penzance is quite familiar. Frederic was born on February 29, the date that occurs only in leap year. He becomes free of his indentures on his 21st birthday, but since he celebrates a birthday only once every four years, his apprenticeship won’t end until 1940.
Now, it’s easy to calculate that the end of this month will mark Frederic’s 38th birthday. Just subtract 1940 from 2008, divide by 4, and add 21. The bigger questions, though, are when Frederic was born and when Pirates takes place.
The obvious calculations would be subtracting 84 years (21 times 4) from 1940 to arrive at 1856 as Frederic’s year of birth, and adding 21 to get 1877 as the setting, close to the 1879 Pirates premiere. It does not take place on February 29, 1877, though – that date never existed. February 28 and March 1 are both arguable for Act I, and remember that Act II takes place much later, as the Major-General has been sitting “night after night, in this draughty old ruin.”
The quadrennial leap year schedule dates back to the days of Julius Caesar, hence the phrase “Julian calendar.” It’s not astronomically perfect, though. By the 16th Century it was determined that there were about three too many leap years every 400 years, so by the authority of Pope Gregory XIII, the Gregorian calendar, the one we use today, was born. Years ending in 00 are leap years only when divisible by 400, as 2000 was, but as 1900 was not. Furthermore, years that shouldn’t have been leap years were shortened retroactively. That’s why, for example, George Washington’s February 11 Julian (or “Old Style”) birthday was converted to a Gregorian (or “New Style”) birthday of February 22, since the British Empire didn’t adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752, twenty years after Washington was born. Of course, it has since undergone further conversion to a “Three-Day Weekend Style” birthday, but that’s another matter entirely.
So did Gilbert take the anomaly of 1900 into consideration? If so, then Frederic had one eight-year stretch (1896 to 1904) between birthdays, requiring the adjustment of his birth year and the setting to 1852 and 1873 respectively.
I’m not going to argue for or against this adjustment. A renowned member of the G&S Society of New York, the late Isaac Asimov, did so a lot better than I could in “The Year of the Action,” an entry in his Black Widowers mystery series. Instead, I’ll try to determine how familiar Gilbert was with the Gregorian peculiarity. After all, one would think that if he could make a simple calendar oddity like February 29 a vital plot feature in a comic opera libretto, he could have a field day with calendar conversions.
Guess what? He did! In fact, he did so before he ever collaborated with Sullivan. One of his early partners was Frederic Clay, the composer of Ages Ago, Gilbert’s Ruddigore prototype that once shared a double bill with Cox and Box that led to his introduction to Sullivan. On May 26, 1870, Gilbert and Clay’s The Gentleman in Black premiered. The music has long been lost, but the libretto survives and demonstrates that as topsy-turvy a world as G&S gives us, Gilbert actually showed more restraint once he started working with Sullivan.
The central characters of The Gentleman in Black are the Baron Otto von Schlachenstein (“His hair is a fiery red, and his nose is diabolical; he has little green eyes, and his face is covered with moles like little hat pegs”), the peasant Hans Gopp (“A heavy, simple, idiotic fellow, but good looking and honest” and played by a woman), Bertha Pompopplesdorf (“Are you the prettiest girl in the village?” “I believe I am considered so”), and the title character, a. k. a. “the king of the gnomes,” whose first entrance Gilbert describes as follows:
“The Gentleman in Black walks quietly through the wall of the inn at a considerable distance from the door that the Girls are barring. He is eating a fork.”
Bertha is engaged to Hans, but to teach him a lesson for being jealous, she pretends to fall for the much older Otto. This makes Hans wish he were in the baron’s shoes; conversely, when Otto learns that Bertha is just using him, he becomes envious of Hans. The Gentleman in Black offers to make their wishes come true – he can transfer their souls into each other’s bodies, but “Only for one month. This is the thirteenth August, 1584, on the thirteenth September your souls will revert to their proper bodies.”
The swap is made, but before long Hans sees Bertha attracted to his former body with Otto as its new inhabitant, while Hans is now old and ugly, although rich, and saddled with a large family. Meanwhile, a youthful body and Bertha’s attentions don’t compensate for the peasant life Otto is now living, and he hatches a scheme. He tells Hans that as babies they “were fed by one common mother” – Hans’s mother, to whom the infant future baron was put out to nurse. Furthermore:
“The peasant’s babe, as he saw lavished on the young baron all the attentions that should have been his own, gnashed his toothless gums with envy, and swore to be avenged. One night – the babes were three weeks old, and were wonderfully alike – the peasant’s babe crept from his clothes basket, quietly removed the sleeping baron from his sumptuous cradle, placed the baron’s son in the clothes basket, and creeping into the baron’s cradle, covered himself up and went to sleep. The cheat was never discovered! The peasant’s son was brought up as the young baron – the young baron as the peasant’s son.”
Now we’re treated to a delightful twist of logic that could be useful in settling those arguments as to how Captain Corcoran and Ralph Rackstraw compare in age:
Hans: But I think you must be mistaken, for you are twenty years older than I am.
Otto: I am now – but when I was three weeks old, of course I was the same age as you were when you were three weeks old.
Hans (puzzled): Of course, I see.
Otto: You see I am naturally quicker than you are – besides, I’m ashamed to say I’ve lived a very fast life.
They sign a document attesting to all of this and agreeing to assume their rightful social positions immediately. For Hans, this means becoming a peasant in a baron’s body for now, but becoming a youthful baron for life on September 13. We soon learn that this is all a ruse so that Otto can immediately become a baron again, and before September 13 “I shall destroy the paper, and prove by the fact that I am twenty years older than he is, it’s utterly impossible we could have been changed at birth – I shall return to my rank, and he will be punished as an impostor.” Before Otto can accomplish this, though, an announcement is made:
“Proclamation! Whereas certain irregularities have crept into the calendar in the course of the last 1584 years, and whereas these irregularities (although in themselves unimportant), constitute in the aggregate a considerable space of time, be it enacted, and it is hereby enacted, that from this date forward, thirteen days be omitted from the calendar, whereby this third day of September under the Old Style becomes the thirteenth day of September under the New Style!” [Can somebody tell me why the hell the block quote button is block quoting my entire entry instead of just the selected paragraph?!?!?!-AW]
The mathematics of this proclamation are slightly off and might be attributable to sloppy proofreading when Gilbert’s libretto was published, but the outcome is inevitable – Otto and Hans are immediately switched back to their original bodies, because they were exchanged “Not for a month – it was from the thirteenth August to the thirteenth of September, 1584.” The baby-switching document enables Hans to begin a life of youthful nobility with Bertha as his baroness.
Doesn’t Pirates seem more believable now in comparison? Just be thankful that I didn’t go into Our Island Home, the Gilbert and German Reed piece with an apprentice pirate (who was supposed to be an apprentice pilot) whose indentures expire prematurely when he realizes he was born in a different time zone!
Thanks Phil, and happy belated Frederick!