Eine politische Geschichte der Oper in Wien 1869 bis 1955

Projektleitung: Christian Glanz

Projektteam: Carolin Bahr, Tamara Ehs, Angelika Silberbauer, Fritz Trümpi
Kooperationspartner: Institut für Zeitgeschichte der Universität Wien (Oliver Rathkolb), Institut für Wissenschaft und Kunst (Projektmanagement)
Laufzeit: Beginn: 1. November 2012 bis 31. Jänner 2016
Finanzierung: FWF
Projektverlauf: » http://www.univie.ac.at/iwk/oper
Projektergebnisse: s. untenstehende Informationen, Projektbericht (» Inhaltsverzeichnis) und » Spielplan-Datenbank


1. Information on the development of the research project

The central scientific goal of the project was focused research with respect to the study oft the political aspects of the history of the Vienna opera in an era of great importance for Austria’s history in general, characterised by crucial ruptures and reorientation processes which had multifaceted and lasting consequences. The central concept – a transdisciplinary approach encompassing musicology, political history and political science, as developed within the project description – lead to a line of showcases (case-studies), which are oriented along “key years” and “key phases” within the chosen period (we call it “phases of transition”, according to Reinhard Koselleck’s metaphor Sattelzeit):

First phase of transition (1869-1875): The culture of Viennese Ringstraße and the liberal dominance in politics and elitist culture around the early 1870’s and the court-opera as a dominating and heavily discussed part of the Ringstraße is exemplified by the performance and reception of operas by Wagner (Lohengrin) and Goldmark (The Queen of Sheba) and including aspects of Exotism / Orientalism and (German) Nationalism versus Austrian identity-concepts within Austria’s cultural and political discourse.

Second phase of transition (1892-1907): The first peak of mass politics. Most important: The pivotal year of 1897 – the commencement of Lueger’s function as the city’s mayor, the violent riots in context with national topics (“Badeni-riots”), Mahler’s first year as a director of Vienna’s court-opera, strong signs of opposition and renewal within Vienna’s cultural scene (formation of the Sezession)  – is exemplified with performance, reception and interpretation of Smetana’s  Dalibor (in respect of political reception including a longitudinal cut reaching out to the late 1930’s).

Third phase of transition (1918-1928): End of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, system change and start-up period of the republic. Viennese opera in the first years of the Austrian Republic after the end of World War One (“from court-opera towards state-opera”), the social, symbolic and political contexts of opera during the phases of crisis in the 1920’s and the extension of Vienna’s opera towards the Salzburg Festival is exemplified by the performance, reception and interpretation of works by Strauss (Die Frau ohne Schatten, Schlagobers) and Krenek (Jonny spielt auf).

Fourth phase of transition (1934-1945): Viennese opera during dictatorship (Austrian Fascism and the years of National Socialism), Austrian civil war and the Nazi-lead coup in 1934, Austria’s and the opera’s Nazi-infiltration leading to the Anschluss, Nazi-lead opera from 1938 to 1945, is exemplified by the non-realised Karl V. (Krenek), the opera-replacing Giuditta (Lehár) and the scandal of 1942, Johanna Balk (Wagner-Régenyi).

Fifth phase of transition (1945-1955): Failing “denazification” and symbolic “reconstruction of Austria”, showcases of “denazification” within the opera (an analysis of the activities of the “special commissions”), the importance of Austrian emigration in the context and symbolic meaning of reconstructing Viennese opera with respect to a new (?) Austrian identity in the “Second Republic era”.

This concept shows that the project did not aim for a kind of “complete narration” of institutional history. This fundamental orientation along the pivotal phases of political history was kept on during the timeline of the project. Because of the very specific situation of the source materials in archives and collections, which turned out to be extremely time-consuming, the focus of research and description had to be applied totally to Vienna’s court-opera/state-opera. So the originally intended comparison to other opera houses (such as Vienna’s “Volksoper”, opera houses in Graz, Budapest, Prague or Munich) could not be realised within the project’s timeline. For the same reason, not all phases of transition could be analysed in the same depth and to the same consistent extent (for instance the second phase of transition, which had to be focussed on 1897). Furthermore the originally intended close reading of the political aspects of administration which should lead to a “history of political organisation” of Vienna’s opera could not be realised for the whole period chosen.

2. Most important results

The research done within the project first of all provides new information with respect to the discovery and classification of the very different types of source material and their very different qualities and significance, including all kinds of materials needed for performance (rehearsal) and realisation of the works. This screening and exploitation of the documentary basics for our research, representing the first central part of the project, took place in the following archives and collections:

Archiv der Wiener Staatsoper,  Österreichisches Staatsarchiv/Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, Archiv der Salzburger Festspiele, Filmarchiv Austria, Musiksammlung der Wienbibliothek im Rathaus, Landespolizeidirektion Wien, Amt der niederösterreichischen Landesregierung, Archiv der Erzdiözese Salzburg,  Archiv des Instituts für Analyse, Theorie und Geschichte der Musik (mdw), Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv, Bundesarchiv Berlin, Archiv der Universal-Edition, Historisches Archiv der Wiener Philharmoniker, Dokumentationsarchiv des österreichischen Widerstands, Landesarchiv Salzburg, Archiv des Karl von Vogelsang– Instituts, Österreichisches Theatermuseum, Archiv des Vereins für Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung,University Library Santa Barbara (Lotte Lehmann Collection) and Musiksammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek.

Most of these materials were screened and exploited for the first time or at least with this special interest of research.
The showcases provide several examples for clear interdependency between political issues (contexts) and interventions in sources of performance, even in scores and instrumental parts. Some showcases (e.g. Schlagobers, Jonny spielt auf, Dalibor, Johanna Balk) very directly reflect on concrete political contexts. Those examples provide on the one hand, completely new information and on the other hand a further and more detailed contribution to the already existing status of research. Particularly in reference to the first years after the end of World War II, the project exploits and provides materials hitherto unknown, referring to “denazification” as well as to the efforts of Austrian emigration in the context of reconstructing Vienna’s opera house. The results of the research done within the project in general reinforces the hypothesis of the strong connection to political developments and the permanent high symbolic value of opera in Vienna’s history, not only in reference to the opera house as a symbol, but also to the programme and to special works shown on stage. All showcases provided are characterised by the transdisciplinary approach: musicology and musical analysis of details (when needed) are used as well as the methods of history and of political science. The musical works, which are represented and exemplified within the showcases in this way can be seen as manifestations or at least stages also for political approach and interpretation. The choice of these works (some of them of “direct” Austrian origin – Goldmark, Smetana, Krenek, Lehár – others out of different reasons claimed to be crucial for Vienna – Wagner, Strauss, Wagner-Régenyi) resulted from their theoretically supposed respectively meanwhile proven specific position within the contemporary discourse of opera and politics in Vienna. This means that there are also vast and important sections of the repertoire, which would not show this type of connection to political aspects. The history of interpretation of the works chosen in respect to politics within the special field of scientific as well as popular musicology also was part of the project’s research. In the case of Smetana’s Dalibor this approach led to totally new findings with respect to context and interpretation (complex and controversial especially for the 1930’s). In the case of Jonny spielt auf the 1928 Vienna-context can be seen as a starting-point for later interpretations of the work, including those by the composer himself. One further example is the today marginalised ballet Schlagobers, which stood in the centre of a heavy public debate in 1924, among other aspects focusing on morality and social conscience and eve nincluding allusions to the violent abolition of the Bajuvarian Sovjet Republic in 1919 and the failed Nazi-coup in Munich the year before.

In spite of the chosen structure of showcases along the phases of transition, there are clear thematic aspects of continuity within the results of the project, among them the question of accessibility of the opera (“whom should opera concern”?).

All texts resulting from the project’s research will appear easily accessible and free for broad audiences (in German language). All phases of transition including the showcases and supplemented by examples of documents and images in reference to relevant materials in archives and collections will be published on this website soon.

The project’s important tool, a performance-database, is already openly accessible, also for further completion by ongoing research.

4. Aspects and examples – participations

The research project was crucially involved in the development of the concepts and the realisation of two international conferences   ̶
Carl Goldmark (1830-1915)  ̶ Werk, Leben, kulturelles Umfeld und Rezeptionsgeschichte and Richard und Cosima Wagners Blick auf Wien  ̶  collaborating among others with mdw
(University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna), Vienna’s Jewish Museum,
the Austrian Academy for Sciences and University of Vienna  (Department of Contemporary History).
Both  conferences were a venue for presenting current outcomes from the project’s research and addressing international expertise in the fields of musicology and history:

(1) Vienna 2014: International Conference Carl Goldmark (1830-1915) - Werk, Leben, kulturelles Umfeld und Rezeptionsgeschichte. Contributions by Fritz Trümpi (Rezeptionsstrategien um Karl Goldmark. Zur politischen Vor- und Nachgeschichte der "Die Königin von Saba"-Premiere am Wiener Operntheater von 1936), Carolin Bahr und Angelika Silberbauer (Untersuchungen zur Vor- und Uraufführungsgeschichte der Königin von Saba). 

(2) Vienna 2014: International Conference Richard und Cosima Wagners Blick auf Wien. Contributions by Carolin Bahr (Contexts of Lohengrin in Vienna) and Fritz Trümpi (Richard Wagner im Wiener Feuilleton des Liberalismus).

Fritz Trümpi contributed to International Conferences, providing aspects of the project's resarch:

Richard Wagner and the Liberal Viennese Press. Paper given in the context of the International Conference "Stylistic tendencies in contemporary creation", Academia de Muzică 'Gheorghe Dima' Cluj-Napoca, May 2015

Kooperation oder Kollaboration? Amerikanische Hilfskomitees und der Wiederaufbau der Wiener Staatsoper nach 1945. Paper given at the Annual Conference of the Austrian Studies Association "Crossing boarders  ̶  blurring boarders", University of Michigan-Dearborn, March 2015

Der Wiederaufbau der Staatsoper nach 1945 im Spiegel amerikanischer Exilzeitungen. Lecture, Österreichische Gesellschaft für Musik (Vienna), January 2016