A fortunate rediscovery after 130 years
The year 2015 marked the 100th aniversary of Theodor Leschetizky's death - a welcome occasion to commemorate the life and work of this illustrious pianist, pedagogue and composer. The Deutsche Leschetizky Gesellschaft e.V. invited us to explore his compositions and we discovered his only completed opera, a light-hearted one-act play with the humorous title Die Erste Falte ("The First Wrinkle"). This musical comedy had its world-premiere in 1867 in Prague, went on from there to several German theatres such as Mannheim and Wiesbaden and to the Viennese Staatsoper in 1883. After that it disappeared from the repertoire. Quite unjustifiedly so!
The anniversary production
"He should have parted with a glass of champagne in his hand. That would have been the right kind of death for him. " Ludwig Karpath about Theodor Leschetizky
On the exact 100th anniversary of Leschetizky's death, 14th November 2015, six artists of the Karlsruher Salonoper brought Die Erste Falte back to life in Gaggenau, the beautiful Black Forest town in which the Deutsche Leschetizky Gesellschaft e.V. was founded. It was the first staged performance after about 130 years. The city of Gaggenau generously provided the venue and a beautiful Steinway Grand D274.
A musical treasure trove is now reopened, and quite literally so, because in our production the singers will be awakened like fairy-tale's sleeping beauty by Leschetizky's music and climb out of a gigantic dressing table: the comedy takes its course.
Eduard Hanslick, a renowned contemporary critic, characterized Leschetizky in his review of the Viennese performance of Die Erste Falte: "An elegant musician, German in style yet with a pinch of the French in it." The libretto by Salomon Hermann Mosenthal is based on a comedy by Roger de Beauvoir. In Germany, Mosenthal is famous for his rendering of The Merry Wives of Windsor, the libretto for Otto Nicolai's popular opera. "Interspersed with a crossfire of witty dialogue" (Hanslick) Die Erste Falte alternates between light-footed activity, dramatic climaxes (notably the discovery of the wrinkle) and lyrical moments such as the Marquise's introspective aria. Sophisticated, often unexpected harmonic turns coincide with textual punchlines.
A maid takes advantage of her Lady's last minute panic in order to coax her into marrying a charming but shy lover. She claims to have discovered the first wrinkle on her ladyships' forehead: now every second counts for the Lady of 20something... and a decision between three suitors has to be made. The Lady and her admirer, the Viscount, need considerable prompting and encouragement before the Happy End is finally achieved after about 90 minutes. Four characters in a finely-spun little intrigue, with clever dialogues and beautiful music: the comedy is perfect.
Die Erste Falte as a back-stage comedy
Our production adds a second level to the plot by catching the singers off guard as it were. When the dressing table opens, the cast is surprised by the sudden presence of the audience after 130 years. They need to shake off their sleepiness, entrances are delayed, costume changes forgotten, private rivalries overlap with the plot of the opera and we end up in the well-known pattern of a "backstage-comedy".
The Four Characters
Juliette, the lady's maid, is a classic soubrette. Like her colleagues Susanna from "Le Nozze di Figaro" or Despina from "Così fan tutte", she is witty, cunning, nimble and sometimes slightly over-excited. On her initiative the action gets going.
Her Ladyship, the Marquise de Sombreuil, is the undisputed Primadonna, dignified and haughty. Her vocal part is characterized by beautiful lyrical lines and the occasional outburst of temper.
The Vicomte d'Etiolles is a fervent lover and a vainglorious singer, as one might expect from the tenor, always seeking the forestage and the undivided attention of the public.
Finally there is Firmin, the valet, Juliette's fiancé and accomplice , a sonorous baritone, a bit quirky perhaps, at times jealous but true as gold and with a lot of comic potential.
The oversized make up case which is our stage is especially designed for easy and quick assembly and deconstruction, similar to the show booths of 18th Century touring troupes. It can be set up in any location, inside or open air, in theatres and concert halls and ideally serves the purpose of taking Leschetizky's beautiful and amusing work around the world.