Thursday, August 6, 2015
The scene above is of Alice dictating typing to Freddy
The show is about America imagined from Austria of the late Belle Époque era. First performed in 1907. My version is a cinematic performance from 1971 with Kurt Graunke and his merry band. Critics tend to pan these "made for TV" performances but beggars can't be choosers. They are the only way of accessing some operettas these days.
It's an amusing fantasy of an American billionaire who entertains himself by employing impoverished European aristocrats as servants.
He also has a good looking daughter ("Alice", played by Gabriele Jacoby) with rather feminist views. So can a handsome European man (Gerhart Lippert as "Freddy") subdue her independence and get her to pursue and marry him? Of course. This is operetta!
Her initial role was as a cynical woman who thought that money alone mattered and that women should rule the roost. Her attitudes were in fact much like what I hear about JAPs (Jewish American Princesses). The JAPs are basically a sad lot as the actually available Irvings and Sheldons can rarely satisfy them. Alice, however, has a weak spot for good looks and falls in love with "Freddy" (Gerhart Lippert) a handsome man who is also a strong character.
So she ends up vowing subservience! She gives her life to him! ("Ich geb' mein Leben dir allein")! Then she joins him in singing that in their togetherness, each Haelt alles Glueck der Welt ("holds all the happiness of the world"!). And when she discovers that he is rich after all, she says "Ich liebe dich trotzdem" ("I love you anyway").
Fabulously romantic but feminists would be ill about it!
And the rich paterfamilias is also won over by "Olga", a shapely European circus lady who pretends to be an aristocrat. And in the end all the parties are happy with their loved partners!
There is even a third theme (with "Daisy") where another challenged couple end up married too. A true Viennese operetta! THREE happy couples!
The Dollarprinzessin title comes from Freddy's big aria in the middle of the show -- where he refuses to marry Alice as merely a business transaction. In true operetta style he loves her and both of them know it but difficulties have to be overcome! He accuses the various young women from rich families who are present at the engagement ball as being "dollar princesses" who are basically spoilt, think money can buy everything and have poor taste: A superb way of getting a confident lady really interested in him. It works!
But it is also of course a typical European view of America -- as tasteless money-worshippers. That view survives to this day. We also see it in Die Herzogin von Chicago by Kalman. Dollarprinzessin was however 20 years earlier.
Imposing German singer Tatjana Iwanow was very convincing as the seductive Olga. She was a fine figure of a woman and good looking generally. She looked in the prime of life but sadly, died only 9 years later of cancer at the age of 54. In life she married 3 times so her looks were obviously appreciated outside the show. Her father was a Russian Czarist army officer, hence the Russian name.
"Olga" in the centre; "Miss Mibbs" to the left
The Austrian Gabriele Jacoby as Alice was also a fine figure of a woman -- a clever lady with both a beautiful face and good "architecture", as they say in operetta.
She also had striking blue eyes and an expressive way of using them. Sopranos vary a lot in the way they use their eyes for expressive purposes and they use their eyes in quite different ways too. Jacoby is the champion of the sideways glance, which she used to good humorous effect. Other singers must use that glance too but I can't recall noticing it. The star who uses her eyes most expressively would have to be Ingeborg Hallstein, followed closely by Dagmar Schellenberger. And I would put Jacoby third after them. She is definitely worth watching!
An unusual feature of her looks is that she has a pronounced "strong" chin, one that would normally be seen on a man only. Women tend to have receding chins, which is why men with receding chins are often seen as "weak".
The mediating factor leading to a strong chin is almost certainly a high testosterone level in utero and that should continue at least in part into later life. And one thing we know is that testosterone gives women a strong sex drive, often strong enough to survive the "change of life". A big proportion of women lose their sex drive entirely after menopause, being barely able to remember "what that was all about". Not so women with good testosterone levels. So I will speculate, with no hopes of ever finding out, that Jacoby was pretty good in bed, as well as all her other admirable attributes. She apparently didn't marry until she was 44, which could mean many things.
She was born in 1944 so was 27 at the time of the show so youthful looks helped too. She is the daughter of Dritte Reich superstar Marika Rökk, a Hungarian. Her father was a prominent director of stage and film for many years and was a Nazi party member in that era. So she is not Jewish, even though "Jacoby" is sometimes a Jewish surname. See her below with her billionaire "father" (Horst Niendorf) and then at her initial meeting with "Freddy". Finally as she is today, still a fine-looking woman.
Miss Mibbs was well and amusingly played by Kaete Jaenicke and Dora the Saloon proprietress played by Ingrid van Bergen was quite a character, singing in a very Marlene Dietrich sort of way. Her rather extreme makeup as she prepared her cabaret amused me. She would have been 40 at the time of the show. A youthful picture of her below.
And may I mention that the Austrian view of blue eyes as treu is honored. Freddy, Alice and Olga all have pretty blue eyes. I have not figured out exactly why but Jacoby has really remarkable blue eyes. I do not discount stage makeup and I do see her false eyelashes but that cannot be a major part of it.
The singing in the show was cabaret style rather than operatic. That was pleasant and amusing enough but I did rather miss the excitement of real operatic singing. There are some wonderful operatic arias in other operettas -- Wiener Blut, Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum etc.
And the show does to an extent reflect the time in which it was recorded rather than the time in which it was composed. At the end, for instance, "Freddy" gets his lady to go upstairs with him by just a wink. I remember something of that myself in the party days of the '60s and '70s.
There are frequent references in the show to "Gotha" so I thought it might be worthwhile to mention that the reference is to "The Almanach de Gotha", a directory of Europe's royalty and higher nobility, from a German perspective. It gave genealogical, biographical and titulary details of Europe's highest level of aristocracy.
A speculation: Why is the billionaire's surname given as "Couder"? Names in operetta are often allusory. Many of the names in Lustige Witwe refer to Montenegrin dignitaries, for instance, thus identifying "Pontevedrin" as Montenegro. "Couder" is mainly a French name but not a particularly distinguished one. It is also a rather rude piece of modern English slang. "Kauder" in German means to talk gibberish but it is hard to see a connection with that.
At the risk of being too clever altogether, I have another idea. The Dutch cheese known as "Gouda" is pronounced by the Dutch very similarly to the way "Couder" is pronounced in the show. And a big boss is often referred to in American slang as "The big cheese". Did Leo Fall or one of his librettists know some Dutch? I suspect so.
Sex roles and tradition
One should not look for serious themes in operetta but Leo Fall and his librettists clearly had one in mind in creating this show. He pushes it in both the "Alice" and "Daisy" story. And I think he is right! What he implies is that female assertiveness is inimical to love. The ladies of course get their way in the end but they have to be nice about it!
Feminists would hate it but this is in fact a celebration of traditional sex roles. Accepting such differences and working within them is needed for good male/female relationships. It's only modern madness that would claim otherwise. Most women HATE to have a man they can push around. They want a man with a mind of his own. "Daisy" says that explicitly and I have certainly seen it in life. And equality is a snark.
Some good excerpts here. The whole show seems to be online here.