Act One "Vienna"
Scene One: "The Prodigy"
The time is 1958, in Burbank, California.
The lights come up on the figure of an old man playing the piano in the
study of his home. It is Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Around him are momentos
of his illustrious career, including two Academy Awards on the mantelpiece
and framed photographs of film stars and other celebrities. This room will
be the set for the entire show. Its mood will change often, sometimes with
each scene, through dramatic lighting effects and projection of visual
images representing Korngold's life. The scenes themselves, which generally
flow seamlessly from one to the next, are not so much differentiated by
major shifts of design, but rather changes in mood and musical content.
There are three large windows on the back walls, and they will also act
as "screens" into the past. After a few bars of music, Korngold notices
the audience and stops. He begins his tale. He starts by telling the audience
that the music he has been playing is from The Snowman, the ballet which
he had written at age eleven. It was premiered in its orchestral form at
the Court Opera House in Vienna in 1910, when the composer was only thirteen.
Korngold elaborates on his youthful fame as the most celebrated child prodigy
since Mozart. Offstage, the male singers imitate the speaking voices of
great contemporary musicians--Mahler, Strauss, Weingatner, Zemlinsky, and
Puccini--all extolling his priases. Included among them is the voice of
the boy's father, the all-powerful music critic at the New Free Press,
Julius Korngold, who dispells the unfounded rumors that he had really written
the music accredited to his son. Korngold goes on to tell further of his
childhood, and how he was at once worshipped and overprotected. As Korngold
looks on, the scene is concluded by Mezzo Soprano entering and singing
a youthful song entitled A Little Love Letter, whose flowing melody expresses
the adolescent composer's budding sense of romance. Throughout the show,
Korngold will sometimes remain on stage for the musical numbers and other
Scene Two: "A Passionate Innocence"
Korngold continues his story. At age
sixteen he wrote his first opera, the charming comedy The Ring of Polykrates,
which takes place in 1797 Saxony. Coloratura Soprano enters in character
as Laura. In the multi-faceted Diary Aria, she muses over the entries in
the secret book, using the set as she would her own drawing room. After
she has finished and exited, Korngold recounts the creation of his next
opera, which is even more astounding than Polykrates. It is the remarkable
Violanta. Full of passion and sexuality, Korngold marvels that his music
could have been so passionate when he himself was still, at the time of
its composition, completely innocent in the ways of the flesh. Taking place
in 15th-century Venice, Violanta tells the story of a married woman who
is tempted to adultery by the same man whose ardour had seduced her sister
and driven her to suicide. As a colored panarama of a Venetian Carnival
illuminates the stage, Dramatic Soprano as Violanta and Dramatic Tenor
as Alfonso sing the rapturous operatic duet, Pure Love.
Scene Three: "Luzi"
With his self-deprecating humor, Korngold
next tells of his experience as a military musician during the First World
War. Luckily kept out of harm's way, he survived the war and resumed his
composing career where it had left off. By then older, he began courting
his future wife, the young actress and singer Luzi von Sonnenthal. Their
respective parents were not in favor of the budding romance, and as a consequence,
the young couple was continually kept apart. However, they devised ways
to maintain contact, including secret musically coded letters. After Korngold
had been commissioned to compose incidental music to the play Much Ado
About Nothing, he formulated a plan to get to see Luzi. This was by deliberately
writing a piece for her entitled The Page's Song. In a delightful and lighthearted
exchange, Coloratura Soprano reappears onstage as Luzi herself. She is
now dressed up in page-boy costume and reenacts this part of their courtship,
culminating in the singing of The Page's Song.
Scene Four: "The Dead City"
The visual imagery becomes dark and
brooding, with the spooky cover to the musical score of The Dead City projected.
It was this opera, premiered in 1920, which became Korngold's most famous
work. Soon it was in some eighty theaters around the globe. Not only powerful
musically but eerily symbolic of post-World War I Europe, the story takes
place in Bruges, Belgium, a hundred years previous. In the first of two
selections from the opera, Baritone portrays Fritz, a wandering minstrel
dressed as Pierrot, and with the Puccini-esque Pierrot's Dance Song he
sings of the longing for his homeland on the shores of the Rhine. In the
second selection, Lyric Soprano as the dancer Marietta and Lyric Tenor
as Paul enter. The study now becomes Paul's room, where he has kept relics
of his dead wife, Marie, including her portrait. Paul sees in Marietta
the very image of Marie, and in their duet, Joy, Which Reigns Above--arguably
Korngold's most well-known operatic number--together they sing of an undying
love which cannot be parted by death.
Scene Five: "Hearts in Three-Quarter Time"
As the scene shifts, the ethereal voice
of Dramatic Soprano is heard in the background, singing the melody to a
melody from The Great Waltz. Korngold and Coloratura Soprano as Luzi resume
the touching story of their courtship. By the 1920s, Korngold's career
had been firmly established. In addition to his strictly compositional
triumphs, Korngold had established a reputation as one of the foremost
arrangers and conductors of operettas, particularly those by Johann Strauss.
After one such performance of A Night in Venice, Korngold asks Luzi's mother,
Frau Adele von Sonnenthal, portrayed by Mezzo Soprano, for her daughter's
hand. The couple recounts their honeymoon. Dramatic Soprano appears as
Frau Josephine Korngold, Erich's mother, and the couple painfully recalls
the early years of their marriage, the birth of their two sons, Ernst and
Georg, and their quest to get out of the grasp of Erich's clinging parents
and find independence. Their exchange of reminiscences lead to stories
of Vienna in the last years of its magic and glory. As Luzi disappears,
Korngold suddenly envisions the figure of his close friend and frequent
collaborator from those salad days, the legendary tenor Richard Tauber,
portrayed by Dramatic Tenor. The stage is lit to highlight only certain
parts of it, while the others are in shadows. The two men swap stories
of their stage triumphs, and this leads directly to Tauber's singing of
The Only Woman, which begins a medley of numbers from the successful Strauss-potpourri,
The Song of Love. In a mini-tableau from the operetta, in which the other
singers appear to be in a play within a play, Lyric Soprano and Lyric Tenor
enter and sing the romantic duet, Come Love!, followed by Mezzo Soprano
and Baritone in the comic My Heart Beats Hell-Bent for Leather. Then all
four soloists sing a quartet version of the sentimental My Little Snow
Princess, and they dance themselves offstage. The spotlight goes on Tauber
again, and in the scene's climax--a moment of melancholy and reverie--Korngold
begins to recite the German lyrics to Du bist mein Traum. This blends seamlessly
into Tauber's singing of You Are My Dream, and the act ends.
"Between Two Worlds"
Scene One: "Heliane"
The stage remains as in Act One. The
lighting and projections will become evocative of the conflicting elements
within the coming scene. Korngold continues his story where he had left
off act, claiming that his love of operetta was partially due to its being
a refuge for him. He explains that, in 1927, his fourth opera, The Miracle
of Helen, premiered successfully in Hamburg, only to meet relative disappointment
in Vienna. The reasons for this fate were very complex and tied into the
contemporary political differences, if not outright feuds, within the music
world. In the first of two confrontational moments onstage with his father,
Baritone appears as Julius Korngold. Father and son discuss heatedly the
causes of the problems which swirled around Heliane. Cheif among them was
the rivalry between Korngold's camp and that of the New Viennese School,
which held to principles of atonality and serialism. Julius detested such
modern innovations and publicly criticized them. The tension was exacerbated
when Julius attacked the revolutionary jazz opera, Ernst Krenek's Jonny
Plays, which received its world-premiere at roughly the same time as Heliane.
Krenek's supporters in return fought back with propaganda of their own,
and Korngold's opera was dubbed old-fashioned and passé. Humorously,
there were even cigarettes named after Heliane and Jonny, trivializing
the artistic gulf between them. Korngold had intended his new opera to
inspire audiences to a higher calling of sacrifice and love, and despite
the controversy, he remained steadfast in his devotion to the work. As
if she were in a rehearsal studio at an opera house, Lyric Soprano enters
and sings Heliane's great aria, I Went to Him, which is a musical expression
of love-making. Korngold begins by coaching her through it, then finds
himself becoming transported by her singing of it, leaving him deeply moved
by its end.
Scene Two: "A Viennese in Florida"
As old hand-colored postcard images
of Florida flood the stage, Korngold once more takes his story back to
his operetta triumphs, with one in particular entitled Roses from Florida,
which he created from an unfinished work by his late colleague Leo Fall.
Korngold then admits that many composers "borrowed" from one another, and
he tells a humorous anecdote about his contemporary, the famous operetta
master Sigmund Romberg. Korngold then introduces a medley from Roses from
Florida, whose plot is loosely centered around a Miss World beauty contest.
Baritone sings the cynical A Woman, Who Can Ever Grasp Her?; Dramatic Soprano
sings the Slavic-flavored Song of My Homeland; Coloratura Soprano and Lyric
Tenor sing Oh, Rose So Red; Lyric Tenor, Dramatic Tenor and Baritone sing
the comic number Oh God, Oh God, Oh, God!; and the above quintet performs
the finale, a reprise of A Woman, Who Can Ever Grasp Them? At the end of
the scene, Korngold comes back with roses for the women, and everyone takes
a company bow and exits.
Scene Three: "Reinhardt"
At this point, there has been a pause
of a few minutes between this scene and the last. As the houselights go
back down, the sound of a ship docking is accompanied by the Cinemascope-like
image of the "Hollywoodland" sign and the overture of Kings Row. Korngold
is now in Hollywood. Coloratura Soprano appears again as Luzi, and she
and her husband reenact their much-anticipated arrival in New York beforehand.
Korngold tells why he has come, which had been at the invitation of Max
Reinhardt, the great theater director in Europe with whom he had earlier
successfully collaborated in the capitals of Europe. Lyric Tenor then appears
as Reinhardt himself in this scene. The two men recount their work together,
including their mutual love of Shakespeare. Indeed, it is this devotion
to Shakespeare, coupled with their mutual admiration, that brings them
together to work on A Midsummer Night's Dream. Having been asked by Warner
Brothers to film his famous stage production, Reinhardt engaged Korngold
to adapt Mendelssohn's incidental music. Curious about the possibilities
of this new medium of film, both men throw themselves into it wholeheartedly.
To punctuate this scene, out in the aisles of the house, Lyric Soprano
and Baritone appear briefly in Elizabethan costume for two Shakespearean
songs, Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind and When Bird Do Sing.
Scene Four: "Hooray for Hollywood"
Korngold had planned on returning to
Europe following completion of his work on A Midsummer Night's Dream, but
as he tells it, he was made a tempting offer by Paramount to score an original
movie operetta entitled Give Us This Night., about an Italian fisherman
who becomes a star tenor in the opera. Despite the high hopes initially
placed on the project, the picture was not a success. However, the film
contained some of Korngold's most glorious vocal music, with the lyrics
supplied by none other than the great Oscar Hammerstein. Nostalgic images
of Italy are projected, and in two ravishing duets, Mezzo Soprano and Dramatic
Tenor sing I Mean to Say "I Love You" and Coloratura Soprano and Baritone
sing Sweet Melody of Night. Together all four conclude the scene with a
quartet version of My Love and I.
Scene Five: "The Projection Room"
Warner Brothers offered Korngold the
most lucrative contract ever to a film composer, and he accepted because
he could divide his time between Europe and America. Korngold begins to
explain more of his philosohpy of composing in general, and particularly
with regard to the medium of movies. As he tells the audience of his relatively
unusual technique of running the films he is about to score over and over
again, composing spontaneously as he does so, Korngold is suddenly transported
back to the projection room. A musical montage of songs from a variety
of films enfolds before him, one immediately leading into the next. Projections
from the films are shown, and the singers appear in costumes suggesting
those worn by the stars on screen, going from one part of the set to another
as dictated by the various combinations of singers needed. The numbers
are as follows: Old Spanish Song, sung by Coloratura Soprano and the stirring
Strike for the Shores of Dover, sung by the three men, both from The Sea
Hawk; I Wish You Bliss from Devotion, sung by Dramatic Soprano; Fight for
the Right and Without Freedom from Rose of the Rancho, sung by Mezzo Soprano
and male chorus; The Cane Song, sung by Lyric Tenor, and the chorul number
Adios, mama Carlota from Juarez; Angela's Song from Anthony Adverse, sung
by Lyric Soprano; Come Live With Me from The Private Lives of Elizabeth
and Essex, duet for Coloratura Soprano and Dramatic Soprano; and the miniature
cantata Tomorrow (When You Are Gone) from The Constant Nymph, sung by Mezzo
Soprano and Chorus. By the latter number, all the singers are upstage in
a row, with Mezzo Soprano in front, paralleling the climax to its respective
film. Korngold is overcome by the emotional content of the piece, and when
it finishes, he turns to the audience and bows. Only then does he, with
slight embarrassment, realize that the whole scene has been in his mind
Scene Six: "Degenerate Music"
Korngold recovers himself and begins
to talk to the audience once again. Nevertheless, he has been increasingly
drawn into the private world of his own memory. Baritone appears again
as his father, Julius. A large photographic image of his father dominates
the stage, making Korngold look like a mere child below it. Julius castigates
his son for prostituting his talent in the movies and for disobeying his
mentorship. But Korngold protests his innocence in both cases, insisting
that his career had always been one of a working musician and not an idealized
myth. After the exchange with his father has come to a head and the image
of Julius has disappeared, Korngold calms down and continues. He tells
the audience about the dangers of intolerance and, fundamentally, prejudice--qualities
which he implies were even present in his own father's personality, at
least in some measure. Korngold then recounts a powerful story about his
incidental work on Green Pastures, a famous film which boasted an all-black
cast. As he tells it, one day actor Rex Ingram, who was playing "De Lawd,"
and composer Hall Johnson, who was also black, were accompanying him to
lunch in the green room on the Warners lot, when they were stopped by a
well-known producer and told that Negroes could not eat there. As he headed
off instead to the cafeteria with the two other men, Korngold turned back
to the producer and sarcastically proclaimed that he was going to eat "with
God!" Now the stage gradually darkens, as this little story has lead directly
into Korngold's acknowledgement of the origins of his birth. Korngold had
been born of Jewish parents, though his family was essentially non-practicing,
and a religious life had never been part of his consciousness. Nevertheless,
because of his ancestry, Nazi Propaganda Minister Goebbels had branded
Korngold's music "Degenerate Music," which subsequently meant that it would
be banned from all German-speaking theaters in occupied Europe. Suddenly
the stage darkens completely except for a special on Korngold, and violent
voices ring out in the hall with anti-semitic cries against his "Jewish"
music. After the horrid Nazi cries have have peaked, Korngold stands motionless.
The only light in the auditorium is a single, isolated one illuminating
the composer's pained face. Then the off-stage voices of Lyric Tenor and
women's chorus are heard, singing the composer's wartime Jewish Prayer,
and in the darkness the sound floats out over the audience. The music seems
to cleanse Korngold, and the act ends.
"The Bitterness of Obscurity"
Scene One: "Kathrin"
From the darkened stage, the lights
slowly come up on Korngold, who is standing in the same position he was
in at the end of the previous act. He is conscious of the audience once
more and reflects upon the twists of fate which saved him from the horrors
of the Holocaust. It was at the last-minute invitation to score The Adventures
of Robin Hood that Korngold, Luzi and Georg left Austria in January of
1938. The Nazis marched into Austria on March 13th, and they immediately
took possession of Korngold's home. Through the resourcefulness of Julius,
his parents and grandson Ernst were able to make their way out of Austria.
And in one of the more remarkable twists of Korngold's life, the composer's
scores were smuggled out of Vienna through the daring rescue of an employer
of his publisher, Weinberger, who took them right out from under the noses
of the Nazis occupying the house. Korngold then laments the fate of his
fifth, and last, opera entitled Die Kathrin. It received its premiere in
supposedly "neutral" Sweden in 1939, but the fascist press destroyed it.
In the first of three arias from the opera, Dramatic Soprano appears as
the title character, a servant girl in love with a soldier, and sings the
poignant Letter Aria, in which she bids him farewell. This is followed
by Baritone as the villain Malignac, who lusts after Kathrin, and he sings
his stentorian aria, In Just a Quarter-Hour. Finally, Dramatic Tenor appears
as François, who sings his beautiful Rambler's Song as he searches
for rest from his weary days of aimless travel. The mood of all three arias
is reinforced by visual effects reflecting their respective settings, especially
so with the swirling lighting of Malignac's aria, which takes place in
Scene Two: "A Fifty-Year-Old Child Prodigy"
Korngold brings his ironic sense of
humor back into play in this scene. He tells of his triumphs and disappointments
at Warner Brothers during the forties. His stories about the making of
Deception with Bette Davis are particularly funny, as well as those related
to the remake of Of Human Bondage, which was perhaps the worst film he
scored and a critical disaster. This look back at Hollywood concludes with
a performance of the only "popular" song which Korngold wrote, entitled
Love for Love, from Escape Me Never. Dramatic Soprano, Baritone, Lyric
Soprano and Lyric Tenor all enter and together they sing the song in a
glorious quartet arrangement. The entire set and the auditorium itself
are illuminated to make it appear as if everyone were in the Hollywood
Bowl. Following the quartet, the lights return to normal and Korngold continues
with a short anecdote about his great rival, Max Steiner, and then concludes
the scene with his decision to give up writing for movies in 1946. Having
felt since the end of the war that he needed to take dramatic steps to
change his situation, Korngold longed to return to the concert hall and
recapture his former eminence.
Scene Three: "Farewell, Vienna!"
In his first original stage work in
years, Korngold set his sights on an operetta entitled The Silent Serenade.
He had continued on and off to work in this genre through the Max Reinhardt
English-language revivals of their great European successes, Die Fledermaus
and Helen Goes to Troy, but these were adaptations and not entirely his
own creations. The Silent Serenade, however, proved to be a dated vehicle
for postwar Europe. It was premiered on radio in Vienna in 1951 and onstage
in Dortmund in 1954, but it vanished afterwards. Nevertheless, as the singers
will show, the music is ravishing. Accompanied by a single impressionistic
image of Naples, where the operetta takes place, Coloratura Soprano as
Luise and Lyric Tenor as Sam sing the charming comic duet Luise, and this
is followed by Lyric Soprano and Baritone in the haunting duet entitled
simply Serenade. Following the latter duet, Korngold comments on how times
had changed in Vienna. There was no such thing anymore as a "Korngold House."
Indeed, his place in the history of Austrian culture had seemed to have
vanished under the crushing onslaught of first Nazism and then the postwar
modernism which unjustly associated his music with corrupt times gone by
that were now best forgotten. This leads Korngold to state his own artistic
principles about what constitutes music and art. He longs for a return
to the glories of Vienna earlier in the century, when he was one of its
brightest shining lights. Mezzo Soprano enters and stands next to him,
as if she is his alter ego. As huge, evocative images of Vienna fill the
stage, Korngold recites the poem Sonnet for Vienna in English and she mirrors
each line through music in German. By the end of the piece, Korngold is
Scene Four: "A Star is Born"
The stage returns to normalcy one last
time. After Korngold has regained his composure, he begins to wind down
his story. He tells of his fading health. In one final amusing but ultimately
sad story about Hollywood, he recounts the work he did on Magic Fire, Republic
Pictures' attempt to film the life story of Richard Wagner. In addition
to adapting Wagner's monumental scores, Korngold even got to portray the
historical conductor Hans Richter, constituting his only appearance on
screen. Nevertheless, despite the high hopes for the film initially, it
was heavily cut by studio executives, disowned by Korngold, and became
a critical disaster. It was a poor ending to such a distinguished career
in the movies. In his concluding manifesto, Korngold states that music
is music, irrespective of the genre. He has been a man who had tasted great
success and later known the bitterness of obscurity. He states that he
can nevertheless hold his head up proudly, knowing that, in his own heart,
he never compromised his own talent. At this moment Korngold is bathed
in an eerie light. Coloratura Soprano as Luzi enters again and emotionally
recounts their last moments together, telling of the day in November of
1957 that her husband was struck down by a massive cerebral hemorrhage.
She bitterly comments that the Vienna Opera House flew its black flag of
mourning in respect, which she rightly felt was a little late. Baritone
then steps out of character and directly addresses the audience. He tells
of the legacy that Korngold has left to legions of fans, of his being honored
with postage stamps in both Austria and his adopted homeland, the United
States. Korngold's legacy has ultimately won out over the obscurity which
he thought was his artistic fate. In the finale to the show, a medley of
five previously sung numbers is heard: Dramatic Tenor, Dramatic Soprano,
Mezzo Soprano and Lyric Tenor reprise a quartet version of You Are My Dream;
Baritone sings part of the melody to Serenade; Lyric Soprano and Lyric
Tenor reprise a shortened version of Joy, Which Reigns Above; Mezzo Soprano
repeat the climactic moments of Tomorrow; and finally Coloratura Soprano
and the entire ensemble of singers conclude with a septet version of Sweet
Melody of Night. The show ends.