German Opera in Ljubljana from 1861 to 1875

  • Jože Sivec

Abstract

In autumn 1861, when the Ljubljana theatre came under the administration of the provincial committee, it still had no resident singers or actors but continued to be dependent on foreign German companies, which changed from year to year or within the period of several seasons. Due to insufficient subsidy, the musical repertoire from 1861–1865 had to be restricted to operetta, but the performances were mostly unsatisfactory. Nevertheless it is significant that the public had the opportunity to get to know the operettas of Offenbach and Suppé. In autumn 1865 opera was resumed but the repertoire was not extensive and the performances were bad or scarcely mediocre. The initiative for an improvement in artistic quality came from the public, which elected a special committee whose task was to supervise activity in the theatre and to collect voluntary contributions for the impresarios. In this way a better material foundation was created and opera began to flourish again with the arrival in 1866 of the experienced and ambitious impresario Anton Zöllner from Brno. With a selected and enriched repertoire and by the relatively high quality of performances, Zöllner improved the Ljubljana theatre so much that it surpassed many a provincial theatre. As in the previous decades romantic opera by French and Italian composers prevailed, especially Verdi and Donizetti. Of the newer operas Gounod's »Faust« (1867) enjoyed the greatest popularity. In addition to »Faust« Zöllner presented operas such as »La Traviata« (1867), »Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor« (1868), »Der Waffenschmied« (1868), »Dino-rah« (1868) and »La Favorite« (1868). After Zöllner had left Ljubljana it was impossible to find a suitable impresario, so during the 1869/70 season the artistic direction of the theatre was taken over by a syndicate of 9 citizens, whose zeal and self-sacrifice were responsible for Ljubljana's enjoying good opera during this season as well. Among new operas Lortzing's »Undine« aroused especial enthusiasm among public and critics alike. That Mozart's »Le nozze di Figaro« appeared on the Ljubljana stage only in 1870, as the newspaper and police reports mention, remains a question. According to present data, the opera was probably already performed during the 1790/91 season, but we are unfortunately unable to prove this directly. As in other theatres throughout the world, performances of Offenbach's operettas became more and more frequent in Ljubljana too. During the seasons 1870/71 and 1871/72, operatic performances were limited to a few months because of financial difficulties and the lack of qualified singers, so the theatre's repertoire was mainly composed of operetta. Operatic activity was re-enlivened during the years 1872–75, when the director was Josef Kotzky from Salzburg. The artistic quality of performances was especially raised in the 1873/74 season, which was the richest of the whole period under discussion. Among new operas which Kotzky presented to the public, especially important were: »Tannhäuser« (1874), »Un ballo in maschera« (1873), »Fidelio« (1874), »L'Africaine« (1873) and »Le Prophete« (1875). In the spring of 1873 and 1874 performances by the Philharmonic Society, which included two new operas in its programme, Lortzing's »Der Wildschütz« (1874) and Füchs's »Guttenberg« (1874), were a fine artistic enjoyment and at the same time an enrichment of the operatic repertoire. In an assessment of the achievements of German opera in Ljubljana from 1861–1875, we must not ignore the fact that it worked under difficult financial conditions. The period under discussion was in general a time of economic instability and was especially unfavourable to the growth of theatres in smaller provincial towns, where a sufficient subsidy from public funds was not guaranted. In addition, the activity of the German theatre in Ljubljana was adversely affected by a series of specific circumstances. As before the question of the private ownership of boxes was still burning, because this deprived the impresarios of their steady income. With the fall of Bach's absolutism Slovene cultural activity was set free and in 1867 the Dramatic Society was founded, so the national question in a town with a strong Slovene majority, became more and more acute. If we consider the operatic repertoire of the Provincial Theatre in Ljubljana in the period from 1861–1875, we can see that it was no longer so progressive and modern as in the previous decades, when the Ljubljana theatre was almost keeping step with musical activity throughout the world. The number of major new operas introduced to the Ljubljana public approximately as soon as in other, more important centres, had sharply decreased. A comparison of the Provincial Theatre's repertoire with that of larger theatres in Austria shows that Ljubljana had considerably lagged behind. This is especially noticeable in the case of Wagner's works which had already established a firm tradition in the theatres of larger cities such as Vienna, Prague and Graz before the Ljubljana premiere of »Tannhäuser« (1874) even took place. We further miss works of French operatic literature from repertoire, at that time current on German stages, especially Gounod's »Romeo et Juliett« (1867) and Thoma's »Mignon« (1866). From Verdi's middle period, only the operas »La Traviata« (1867) and, »Un ballo in maschera« (1873) were performed, while »Il Trovatore«, »Rigoletto« and »Ernani«, which at that time were constant items on the repertoire of the Provincial Theatre, had already had their Ljubljana premieres before 1861. It is not surprising that the Ljubljana public did not get to know of the mature Verdi to any higher degree, because besides the three works mentioned, »Un ballo in maschera« was actually the only Verdi opera before »Aida« which gained wide acceptance in German theatres. The only field in the musical repertoire where the Provincial Theatre kept in step with developments in the rest of the world, was operetta. During the period under discussion, a considerable part of Offenbach's work was performed, as well as operettas by Suppé and Lecoq. All these works arrived quickly on the Ljubljana stage. Although German opera in Ljubljana was not in a position to take full regard of modern production, the significance of the Provincial Theatre's musical activity must be positively appreciated. A glance at the repertoire shows that it was extensive and of considerable artistic worth. It contained many older Classic and Romantic works of lasting value, several of which were first introduced to the public at this time. Performances were mostly not bad and in some seasons even distinctly surpassed the average. Finally we must not forget that German opera also offered opportunities to local singers of appearing on stage. Members of the Slovene Dramatic Society are also to be found among their number.

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Published
1972-12-01
How to Cite
SivecJ. (1972). German Opera in Ljubljana from 1861 to 1875. Musicological Annual, 8(1), 86-111. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.8.1.86-111
Section
Articles