The Korngold Initiative

Why not opera? Why not us? Why not Korngold?

With over ten years experience in translating and producing rare Viennese and German operettas by Jewish composers and librettists, it only makes sense that we turn our lens to the world of Opera, which suffered a similar fate at the hands of The Third Reich. 

Many opera composers suffered censorship, imprisonment, exile, or worse during the years of The Third Reich. We hope to bring renewed attention to these neglected composers. One of the most unjustly neglected composers was Erich Korngold. He was a child prodigy that burst onto the world stage with his opera Die Tote Stadt, written at the tender age of 19. Forced to leave Vienna with the looming Austrian Anschluss of 1938, Korngold found his way to Hollywood, where he became one of the most successful film composers of all time.

As the world steered away from pre-war Romanticism, Korngold who received two Oscars for his film scores and largely shaped the sound of Hollywood, was unable to have his Opera works performed.  His music for the operatic stage was lnlt as well received. There are several reasons for this: the prevailing anti-Semitism among producers, critics and audiences during the 1930’s and 1940’s; and the fact that his music, with its lush, romantic harmonic language, was considered out of date after the war; and the deeply entrenched presence of Nazi sympathizers in major European artistic institutions after the war.  

The strange relationship of the Nazi regime to the arts has been well documented. The Nazis sought to eradicate art that they saw as “degenerate” or whose creators they deemed racially impure; at the same time, if a work or genre was popular, they would often try to co-opt it for propaganda purposes. These two competing tendencies often led to policies that were contradictory, illogical, and downright hypocritical. Many of the finest artists of the time were forced into exile, while those who were unable to leave faced persecution, imprisonment, and death. Korngold was able to escape to the U.S. where he took up residency in Hollywood.

Korngold67Die Kathrin was Korngold’s last opera. He started writing the show in 1933 during a period of time in which he was re-orchestrating the operettas of Leo Fall and Johann Strauss Jr. Die Kathrin was scheduled for its first performance in Vienna in 1938. Unfortunately the show, with its love story between a German woman and a French soldier in the French-occupied Saarland, ran afoul of Nazi censors and was cancelled. It finally received its European premiere in Sweden in 1939 where it faced an overtly harsh and anti-Semitic review. Die Kathrin was almost lost forever when Nazis broke into the Korngold villa to destroy his work. Michael Haas, in his book Forbidden Music writes: “Weinberger (Josef Weinberger Publishing House) employees broke into the cellar, recovered what was left of the manusc

ript, and returned it to Korngold by interleaving sheets between pages of Beethoven, Mozart and other acceptably “Aryan” composers and posting them to the composer in California.” It was finally given its Viennese premiere in 1950, but was not modern enough for post-war tastes, as any music that was a reminder of pre-war Vienna was frowned upon and not suitable for a modern Austria.

The work has seldom been performed, but the music is masterfully written, compelling and deserving of another look. We are uniquely suited to the task as a company with a proven track record in the field of rare neglected works. Since 2009 we have presented a large body of unknown works at a fraction of the price of other companies, while not sacrificing the quality of the work and the intentions of the  composers. Be part of the Folks Operetta Experience and make your donation today.

The Korngold Initiative is our two year fund raising campaign to bring Korngold’s rarely performed opera Die Kathrin to Chicago for its American premiere.  The campaign is seeking 100,000 dollars to employ local Chicago musicians, singers, artists and designers, to construct the show and produce it at the Athenaeum Theater in October 2019.   The performance will be a reconstruction of Korngolds original intentions to set the sow in occupied Germany following the First World War. In keeping with our mission of keeping shows accessible we translate the show and perform it in English.

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