Last night, I had the honor of working with awesome folks Matt Aucoin, Sharin Apostolou, Sharleen Joynt, and Ben Bliss to do a production of Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor in a warehouse in Red Hook, Brooklyn (all thanks to Groupmuse...) I directed and wrote new English dialogue, simplifying the plot and bringing the piece into the 21st century while striving to maintain all of Mozart’s genius, charm, and wit.
note from the director:
Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) was written in 1786 for the court of Emperor Joseph at his imperial command, for a private lunch party/opera competition. Those were the days. The competition put this German singspiel (comedy-with-music) up against an Italian comic opera, First the Music, then the Words, by Antonio Salieri (of Amadeus fame). Each was presented at a different end of the room, guests turned their chairs around at intermission.
Here is the slight plot. After the overture, the curtain opens on Frank, the impresario. He auditions two singers to be part of his new operatic production. First, Madame Herz (Miss Heart) sings “Da schlägt die Abschiedsstunde,” then, Madame Silberklang (Miss Silver-sound) sings “Bester Jüngling.” Frank wants to hire both, but they argue over who will get the top billing (and biggest salary). Herr Vogelsang (Mr. Bird-song), the tenor, enters, and all three argue in the trio “Ich bin die erste Sängerin” (I am the best singer). After Frank threatens to fire them all if they don’t stop fighting, they concede their positions and end with the quartet “Jeder Künstler strebt nach Ehre” (Every artist strives for glory).
Pure fizz. Nothing to it. But behind the lightness of the comedy, I do think the piece has something to say about making art, about putting together anything that’s worth doing. The three singers are parodies of the parts of ourselves – venality, selfishness, greed – that get in the way of beauty, of creation. They’re parts of ourselves we don’t like; at least, parts of myself I don’t like. Maybe I see too much of myself in them, especially when confronted with putting on an opera about them. Or maybe through this piece, we can go some kind of way towards exorcising them, at least for a while.
The last line of the libretto says that while “every artist strives for glory,” ultimately, the process will “make the greatest artist small.” Indeed, Herr Mozart. Indeed.