German premiere of Krenek’s “Kehraus um St. Stephan” in Gießen
In 1930 Ernst Krenek wrote his opera Kehraus um St. Stephan, in which he sketched an unsparing panorama of the time and its people, in the “manner of Karl Kraus”, as he later described it. The piece was taken up, then in turn rejected and finally only premiered in 1990. The “satire with music” to Krenek’s own libretto reveals a social collection of curios from the years following the lost First World War, when the opportunity for a revolution was thrown away, economic troubles and political uncertainties had a devastating effect and a society of black marketeers and post-war winners developed. The work receives its German premiere at the Stadttheater Gießen on 16 May 2015. The musical director is Florian Ziemen, and director is Hans Hollmann.
The international economic crisis had already overshadowed the “Roaring Twenties” when Ernst Krenek retreated to the Tyrolean alps in 1930 to write the libretto and the music for his satire Kehraus um St. Stephan. After the international success of Jonny spielt auf the Leipzig Opera had commissioned a new work from him, but people were alarmed by the explosive subject matter. They were also afraid of predictable conflicts with increasingly powerful political extremists, and turned the opera down, both there and elsewhere.
What is it about? Whilst the music restores the full apparatus of the Romantic period, interrupted by loosely-organised tonality with calculated interruptions, parodistic disassociations and twelve-note sequences, the libretto gives an account of local conditions after the First World War in a weakened Austria, but also of Germany’s stance towards its young neighbouring republic. The crisis forms the actual subject and a forward-propelling factor in the densely-constructed operatic plot. For example, the leering, drunken German with the telling name of “Herr Kabulke from Berlin” bellows his real opinions drinking the young wine in an inn: “And as far as politics goes, we’ll beat up the Poles first of all, the [Polish] Corridor must go! And then we want to triumphantly strike France! ... And then we’ll march into Russia and put an end to Bolshevism.” People shuddered ...
Krenek was eventually able to experience the much-acclaimed belated premiere on 6 December 1990 in the Etablissement Ronacher, Vienna. A few years earlier he described his work, written long ago: “It was in the style of Karl Kraus, against the Nazis, against the Jews, against everybody.” “Herr Kabulke” was originally called “Herr Goldstein”; Krenek had carefully corrected this on all the pages of the manuscript: the escalating persecution of the Jews had made the original name impossible. Krenek loathed antisemitism. In addition, this alteration reflected his sensitivity with regard to the boundaries of satire.
(from [t]akte 1/2015 – translation: Elizabeth Robinson)