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Theater 30.3 (2000) 23-25
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A Translator's Note
On its surface level, Royal Palace is a zany surrealist music drama, a German response to the voguish exuberances of Cocteau, Dadaism, and Futurism. The work's overtly discernible story line explores the unremarkable notion that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. The central character, Dejanira, is a protean female spirit whom three chauvinist male suitors try to control and possess. She makes a bid to reclaim herself, to realize her femininity free of the oppression of a masculine world. She embraces death in order to find life. Leaving the relatively explicit surface level aside, however, the journey we are invited to follow in Royal Palace is more challenging and labyrinthine.
The opera was written shortly after Weill and his librettist, Iwan Goll, had completed another shared work, Der neue Orpheus. In this work the authors eschewed art for art's sake and laid the foundations for a new style of music drama that would be responsive to and critical of its contemporary social, political, and moral context. Should one interpret Royal Palace in light of these newly articulated concerns? Knowing how the body of Weill's subsequent German works all took a strongly questioning and often critical stance to the society he lived in, it would be remiss not to. This means Royal Palace can legitimately be viewed not just as a clash of male and female psyches cast in a strange and alluring surrealist aesthetic but also as a work that offers critical insights into the social, cultural, and historical world within which it was conceived.
Royal Palace was written in the middle of a period of tremendous turbulence. Eight years earlier the Prussian-German state had lost the First World War. The subsequent fledgling Weimar Republic was failing to establish a viable new German identity, failing to feed its populace, failing to control unemployment, and, at least until 1925, failing spectacularly to control inflation. Two years before Royal Palace was conceived, Hitler had tried to take power in Bavaria with the Munich Beerhall Putsch. Two years after the premiere, Germany's economy was again in ruins after the Great Depression, and only a year later Hitler's party was the largest in Germany. He was to put bread on every table, beer in every mug, and make the trains run on time. He supplied a people [End Page 23] of fragmented historical background and fractured spirit with a German identity that proved irresistible.
The three male suitors in the opera have no names; we are encouraged to look at them as types, not individuals. Their titles clearly suggest past, present, and future. If the function of these characters is to be examined from a socially and philosophically critical point of view, and not just as elements in a psychological drama, what aspects of past, present, and future do they invoke? The answer is, challengingly, that very little is precisely suggested in the text, but much can be and, in a stage production, has to be inferred.
It is logical to associate Yesterday's Lover with a past world, perhaps a threatened, cultivated Germany, perhaps the more liberal-humanist but ultimately ineffectual side of a defeated Prussian-German state. Today's wealthy Husband can be associated with the resurgent industrialists of the struggling Weimar Republic, the Thyssens and Krupps and Voeglers that Hitler so successfully courted. And Tomorrow's Lover, the impassioned, strutting, and incoherent posturer, perhaps with the mad seductions of the fascist world to come.
Dejanira is the only character in the piece with a name, one that suggests a strange, Indo-European, quintessentially female spirit. Greek mythology tells us that Hercules won a Dejanira, a legendarily beautiful woman, as his wife. (Ironically, she also caused his death, tricked into giving him a poisoned shirt to wear.) In Royal Palace, Dejan- ira is identified with the cosmos, the waters of the lake, the voice of the right to self-realization, and the fatal love song of the Young Fisherman and the Soprano Solo. Why...