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• 145 • 7 Classicism and Historicism By the 1920s, European operetta was coming to seem dated and passé. The frivolous plotlines about squabbles among Central European aristocrats seemed less amusing after they had spent four years trying to kill each other. Musical styles were changing, thanks in large part to the jazz music that American soldiers had brought with them to Europe during World War I. Jazz was embraced as popular music by a continent weary of the old-fashioned morals and culture that the war had swept away. Jazz music and short skirts replaced the Viennese waltz and the decorous long gowns of the prewar years. Composers like George Gershwin, Darius Milhaud, and Kurt Weill made jazz somewhat respectable by using it in symphonic compositions. The occasional European operetta composer tried to adapt to this changing world, such as Emmerich Kálmán. Normally a composer who trafficked in Léhar style lyricism , in 1928 he premiered Die Herzogin von Chicago (The Duchess from Chicago), which made liberal use of jazz. The plot also reflected the changes wrought in postwar Europe. The impoverished aristocrat Prince Sandor finds himself pursued by Miss Mary Lloyd, who believes that her father’s wealth can buy her anything she wants—including Sandor’s palace, with the prince himself as so much furniture. All ends happily, of course, but with the couple dancing a fox-trot rather than a waltz.1 But Die Herzogin von Chicago was an exception. Most European operettas tried desperately to ignore the sea changes of the 1920s. The output of Franz Léhar sums up what was happening to European operetta. The Merry Widow and The Count of Luxembourg were typical of prewar operetta, waltz music sung by aristocratic characters and set to gossamer-thin plots. In his postwar compositions, the lush music and slight stories remained. But in order to make his work acceptable to a world where the aristocracy were increasingly irrelevant, Léhar set some of his postwar works in a highly fantasized histori- Music Theater and Popular Nationalism in Spain, 1880–1930 • 146 • cal past. Paganini (1925) imagines an affair between the nineteenth-century violin virtuoso and the sister of Napoleon, while Friederike (1928) uses the romantic travails of a young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe as the basis for the plot. (A significant chunk of Berlin audiences found a singing Goethe highly risible, and the plot was parodied in cabaret sketches that season.) Léhar’s other strategy was to situate his works in exotic fantasy worlds. The Land of Smiles (1929) sweeps its Viennese heroine off to a China completely devoid of Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-Tung. Guidetta (1934), his last work, is set in a Mediterranean North Africa so stereotyped that one keeps expecting Charles Boyer to appear and ask Guidetta to come with him to the Casbah.2 Zarzuela was not immune to these trends. As we have seen, the increasingly close connection between opera and zarzuela in the 1920s made it seem less vital and less nationalistic than it had before. Spain may have remained neutral during the Great War, but zarzuelas with singing urban masses and happy peasants probably seemed a little out of place in a country where anarchists were organizing labor unions, and strikes made the discontent of the working classes obvious. In 1923 Spain succumbed to the blandishments of dictatorship. Miguel Primo de Rivera put a stop to labor unrest, but at the price of suspending the Cortes, banning unions, and otherwise suspending the democratic process. Spanish composers and librettists, seemingly unwilling to come to grips with the modern age, retreated into historicized fantasy just as Léhar had. Rather than shipping their casts off to exotic ports of call, zarzuelas increasingly turned to classic Spanish literature—especially the plays and novels of Spain’s seventeenth-century Golden Age—as an appropriate way of distancing their plots from contemporary life.3 Zarzuela music retreated into lush grandiosity, and while there were the occasional attempts to interject modern jazz and dance music into zarzuelas (such as the 1921 work that was Jacinto Guerrero’s first significant hit, La montería), most 1920s scores revived the elaborate and complex musical structures of the nineteenth-century zarzuela grande, moderated occasionally by Spanish folk music or Viennese waltzes. A suitable framework for understanding the zarzuelas of the 1920s can be found in the writings of Theodor Adorno. Adorno, one of the great pessimists of cultural analysis, tended to insist that...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780807161043
MARC Record
OCLC
960977412
Pages
272
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-26
Open Access
No
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