Aloha, love! Hawaii on the stage of the Komische Oper

Xl__dsf5322_ © Jaro Suffner

Since 2013, the artistic and general director of the Komische Oper Berlin, Barrie Kosky, has dedicated the last production of the year to a work by Paul Abraham. This year it is Die Blume von Hawaii or The Flower of Hawaii, which, in 1931, helped the composer to achieve final recognition as a master of the operetta genre. After its world premiere in Leipzig, this jazz operetta began its tour de force, and not only in Germany. Abraham incorporated many musical elements of the new jazz genre, as well as indigenous Hawaiian instruments such as the banjo and Hawaiian guitar, known for its distinctive singing tone.

The plot is - how could it be otherwise - about love. And not just about one couple, but three. At the end of the 19th century, Hawaii was still an independent kingdom, although there were already very strong American economic interests, especially in agriculture. These facts inspired Paul Abraham and his librettists Emmerich Földes, Alfred Grünwald and Fritz Löhner-Beda to invent a ludicrous comedy: Princess Laya, who has returned home from fashionable France, wants to seek out her prince Lilo-Taro, who was already promised to her as a child, marry him and secure the kingdom accordingly. But on the crossing, she is taken with the ship's captain Reginald Stone. He in turn is admired by the American governor's niece, Bessy Worthington, to the despair of the governor's secretary, John Buffy. Also on the ship to Hawaii is jazz entertainer Joker Jim, who naturally also becomes romantically involved, for example with young Raka, who is not averse to him. After about 90 pleasurable minutes full of song and swing, the predictable happy end for all concerned can take place.

To put all the turmoil and confusion in perspective, a mistress of ceremonies is needed, played here with verve and style by Andreja Schneider. In elegant tails and top hat, she also needs cheat sheets to keep the various personalities and their individual stories apart.

In the semi-concert performance in the practical stage reconstruction - as it is called on the cast sheet - by Matthias Grimminger and Henning Hagedorn, the singers have enough space on the area of the overbuilt pit to do fast and slow foxtrots and other dances of the jazz era, in the choreographic collaboration of Mariana Souza.

Alma Sadé, a member of the Komische Oper ensemble, sings Princess Laya with grace and melodious soprano. Tenor Tansel Akzeybek gives a melancholic, dutiful Prince Lilo-Taro with a dignified, beautiful, timbre. Soprano Mirka Wagner is a sassy Bessie Worthington who gets what she wants. Tenor Johannes Dunz sings a pale and duty-bound Captain Stone. As secretary John Buffy, Julian Habermann's clear tenor stands out.

Jörn-Felix Alt as Joker Jim can be described as a vocal and dancing whirlwind, full of precise, musical energy. He gives this shady character a charming personality of his own, sweeping the audience along with his verve.

The five-member Lindenquintett Berlin is chorus and commentator at the same time: sometimes they personify the reception committee, waiters or sailors, always committed and present, even when they are just waiting for their cues on-stage.

The conductor Koen Schoots, known as a musical and operetta expert, leads the Komische Oper orchestra from his podium behind the soloists on stage. One notices how the orchestra has discovered and learned to love the special musicality that make operetta so speicial over the years.

Barrie Kosky has done more than anyone else in Berlin to promote the renaissance of the operetta genre during his time as general director. He has brought a full twenty works to the stage of the Komische Oper - with great success. The Berlin audience of the present generation has thus become aware of the important musical tradition that had been such a part of their own city in the 1920s. It is to be hoped that this tradition has found a permanent place in the house on Behrensstrasse and will be continued in the future. The audience will certainly be thankful for it.

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