Jonny Spielt Auf
Ernst Krenek (or Křenek, 1900–1991), the son of an Austro-Hungarian Army officer with Czech and German roots, wrote that his opera Jonny spielt auf (Jonny Plays) was his “greatest success, a source of fabulous income and a reason that resulted in many vital changes in my life”. The lead character is Max, a romantically exalted composer, whose ambition is being restrained by Anita, an opera singer. Max’s rivals are the celebrated violinist Daniello and the black jazz musician Jonny. Max craves glory, while Jonny longs for Daniello’s precious violin, which he duly steals. With the theft of the instrument being the nodal point of the plot, the opera features a rapid succession of scenes, alternating between expressionistic images, elements of film slapstick comedy and crime drama, while the music ranges between extensive neo-Romantic passages and jazz-influenced dance rhythms. In the end, “Jonny Plays and the whole of Europe dances”. Krenek’s opera was premiered on 10 February 1927 in Leipzig, conducted by Gustav Brecher. The first night was attended by the director of the New German Theatre in Prague, Leopold Kramer, and the stage director Louis Laber. In June 1927, Jonny spielt auf was performed in Prague, under the baton of Alexander Zemlinsky. Subsequently, the New German Theatre staged Czech premieres of Krenek’s operas Schwergewicht (The Heavyweight, 1929) and Vom lieben Augustin (About Dear Augustine, 1931), as well as the world premiere of his opera Karl V, in 1938, the last complete season of the theatre, which in the autumn of that year would be closed down in the wake of the Munich Agreement. “Within a few days, it was clear that overnight I had become one of the most famous Central European composers. The unexpected triumph unbalanced me, and I have yet to overcome the shock,” thus wrote Krenek in 1942 in the USA, where he had emigrated owing to his being hounded by the Nazi regime, which labelled him “degenerate”. A Krenek opera is now returning to Prague after 91 years.
Sung in German. Czech and English surtitles.
Intermission after Act I
Premieres 24. and 26.1. 2019
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