Music: Paul Abraham (1892–1960)
Libretto: Alfred Grünwald (1884–1951) & Fritz Löhner-Beda (1883–1942)
Czech translation of the vocal texts and Czech dialogues: Vlasta Reittererová
By 1932, when the Hungarian composer Paul Abraham completed Ball im Savoy (Ball at the Savoy), he had garnered enormous acclaim with the operettas Viktoria und ihr Husar (Victoria and Her Hussar), dating from 1930, and Die Blume von Hawaii (The Flower of Hawaii) from 1931. At the time, the wealthy artist was living in a sumptuous Rococo-style villa in Berlin, mingling with the city’s crème de la crème and throwing lively parties, while frenetically composing operettas and film music, and conducting. Abraham’s social whirl seems to have reflected in Ball im Savoy, depicting a “crazy“ story abounding in humorous conspiracies, mistaken identities and amorous sparkle, with the central plot being mistrust between a newly-wed couple caused by suspected infidelity after returning from a lengthy honeymoon. The music, a pell-mell of jazz, klezmer, a variety of European and American dances, including czardas and tango, as well as elements of Viennese operetta, presents a happy-go-lucky world, with the score containing several smash hits, with the most notable songs being Toujours l’amour (Love Everlasting), Kangaroo, Wenn wir Türken küssen (When We Turks Kiss) and the tongue twister Es ist so schön am Abend bummeln zu geh’n (It’s So Nice to Go for an Evening Stroll). Just like in every true operetta, Ball im Savoy features resplendent soprano arias and mesmerizing love duets, but the audience can also savour musical and burlesque scenes à la Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. By and large, the operetta affords an ultimately escapist entertainment!
Ball im Savoy was produced by the Rotter brothers, Germany’s most prominent impresarios. The premiere, which took place in Berlin on 23 December 1932, boasted a stellar cast, with the celebrated singers Gitta Alpár, Herbert Ernst Groh, Oszkár Dénes and Rózsi Bársony portraying the lead roles. The opening performance, at the 3,300-seat Grosses Schauspielhaus, was a sensation. The operetta’s “glamorous premiere was such a tremendous success that the Grosses Schauspielhaus is set for a long time to come,” wrote one of the Berlin critics, without anticipating how prophetic his words would be. The Austrian critic Ernst Décsey even branded Abraham “a Stravinsky of modern operetta”.
While the democratic press lavished praise, Joseph Goebbels’s newspaper, Der Angriff (The Attack), scorned the show. “The most expensive stars were hired who were supposed to bring some pizzazz into the place with all their skills. So alongside empty scenes that only had revue razzle dazzle, there were a few scenes that might have been pleasing in their light colourful nature if one didn’t have to watch this whole theatrical apparatus that was drummed up by the Rotters to put four foreigners on the stage in the harsh footlights; if one didn’t have to listen to three actors who were paid huge sums of money to mangle our German language; and if the foreign composer Abraham weren’t on the conductor’s podium.”
In consequence of the tumultuous political development, the triumph was short-lived. Barely a month after the premiere, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany, and the days of Ball im Savoy were numbered. The lives of its creators and the stars of the production transformed utterly. Due to their Jewish ancestry, Abraham, the Rotters, Alpár, Bársony and Dénes had to leave the country. The last performance of the operetta was held on 2 April 1933. Abraham fled Germany in haste. When departing from Berlin, he lamented: “I wanted to die in this city. But why do I have to go? Just because I’m circumcised?” Abraham left about 300 song manuscripts at his villa, which his butler allegedly sold to inferior non-Jewish, mostly Nazi-supporting, composers, who went on to publish them under their own names. Consequently, Abraham’s “unwanted” music lived on in Nazi Germany. Yet that provided little consolation to the composer, whose fame while living abroad never equalled that he had attained in Berlin. Abraham died in New York impoverished and ravaged by mental illness. A cruel absurdity of fate …