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Eugen d' Albert: Die schwarze Orchidee

  • Duration: 120’
  • Instrumentation details:
    3·2·2·alto-, tenor-, baritone sax.·3 - 4·3·3·1 - timp., perc. (xyl., glock., singing saws, anvil, jazz instruments): 5 player - hp., bjo - str.
  • Choir: SATB
  • Composer: Eugen d' Albert
  • Text author: Karl M. von Levetzow

Work introduction

[...] one of the operas characteristic of the late 1920s which, like Krenek’s Jonny spielt auf, Weill’s Der Zar lässt sich fotografieren and Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage, eminently deserves a niche of its own in the repertoire.

D’Albert’s operatic grotesquerie flirts with the situation in the American Prohibition era. Set in Manhattan’s gangster and nightclub milieu, its protagonist is Percy Garnet (part Mack the Knife, part Cardillac), the boss of a gang of burglars, who leaves a black orchid behind at the scene of every robbery. It is not long before he falls in love with Lady Grace, “the prettiest broad in New York,” becoming the rival of Bobby Pinkleton, head of the Secret Service. Otherwise, the cast of characters includes any number of queer customers, including Schmuckele, a tabloid reporter, and the obligatory token nigger (as blacks were called at that time), plus the Glacier Girls from the Mount Everest Bar.

Librettist Karl Michael von Levetzov mixed these ingredients into a quixotic cocktail of opera, operetta, revue and crime story – a heady brew making it impossible to keep the plot clear in one’s mind, even if one could understand more of the words.

Despite its seamy subject matter, the piece is no “jazz-opera,” even though its borrowings from the popular music styles of the era – spirituals, foxtrot, shimmy – and the orchestration (including saxophone, tuba, banjo and vibraphone – the latter replacing the originally planned musical saw) do unmistakeably suggest the times and colours of the Roaring Twenties.

Opernwelt magazine, May 2003


World première

Neues Stadttheater Leipzig, Leipzig (DE)
Gustav Brecher

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