Institutional Identities Panel

Saturday, April 14, 1:00pm
Room 1145
Sasha Metcalf, chair

" 'Spiel', my Jazzband, spiel'!' Transatlantic Impulses in Inter-War Viennese Operetta"

Ulrike Petersen, Music History & Literature
University of California, Berkeley

After the Great War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was reduced to an unimportant Alpine republic. Many Viennese artists and intellectuals left for the more glamorous art scenes of Berlin, Hollywood or New York. Operetta, an art form that before the war had become an important international cultural asset for Vienna, also suffered as the foremost Austrian composers increasingly premiered their hit works abroad. However, in spite of what is now often implied, the Viennese stages offered not only nostalgic "Alt Wien" works. Focusing on Bruno Granichstaedten's box office hit Der Orlow (1925), my paper will examine the strong interest in American and Russian topics that Viennese operettas showed throughout the late 1920s. Set in a New York auto body shop, Der Orlow tells the story of a Russian nobleman who, having fled to the US during the 1917 revolution, falls in love with a popular singer but is mistaken for a simple mechanic. Granichstaedten's use of "syncopated music" and a "Jazz band" (employed separately from the main orchestra) made a big impression on Vienna's critics and audiences. Over the next decade, several operettas — most successfully, Kálmán's Die Herzogin von Chicago (1928) and Granichstaedten's Reklame (1931) — were set in the US and/or incorporated "Jazz" elements (although perhaps not in the same manner as works premiered in Germany, as the negative Viennese reactions to Krenek's Jazz opera Jonny spielt auf (1929) suggest). Russian subjects—mostly nostalgic and always non‐communist ones! — also became popular in inter‐war Austrian works, so, for example, in Oscar Straus's Der Bauerngeneral (1931). These trends will be read as attempts of the Viennese cultural industry to adjust to Austria's new political situation as well as to remain internationally competitive, and as a playful confrontation with the now threateningly powerful states to the east and west of Austria.

"Opera's Identity Crisis in America"

Daniela Smolov Levy, Musicology
Stanford University

Opera in America suffers from a recurring identity crisis. Fueled by anxiety over the genre's survival on the one hand and its cultural prestige on the other, the clash between opera's highbrow status and its populist aspirations has existed from the earliest introduction of foreign-language opera to the United States. For more than a century, the rhetoric of the "democratization of opera" has reflected periodic pressure to attract larger and more diverse audiences, pushing managers to disseminate it through new forms of mass media. I argue that the tensions emerging from opera managers' uses of new media reflect opera's culturally and socially ambiguous status as an elite genre in a populist, egalitarian age. Examining three instances of media innovation impacting opera — radio in 1931, television in 1949, and HD simulcasts in 2006 — I consider various facets of opera's identity crisis, including the features of each new presentation format that highlight opera's elite-popular tension and the characteristics of opera's increasingly diverse target audience. I draw on both qualitative analysis of primary and secondary historical sources, including reports in the contemporary press, and quantitative analysis of surveys of opera listening and viewing. I conclude that opera's identity crisis evident in these three popularizing measures is part of a broad cultural shift in America since the late nineteenth century: the gradual dispersal of cultural power away from elites toward the masses. Yet the paradox is that greater access — control of access being a hallmark of power — has not fostered opera's closer integration with popular culture, but rather cemented its status as an elite art form and a prestigious symbol of this country's cultural traditions.

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