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date: 28 May 2020

Zar lässt sich photographieren, Der (‘The Tsar Has his Photograph Taken’)locked

  • Stephen Hinton

Extract

(‘The Tsar Has his Photograph Taken’)

Opera buffa in one act, op.21, by Kurt Weill to a libretto by Georg Kaiser; Leipzig, Neues Theater, 18 February 1928.

In the Studio Angèle, Paris, the telephone rings. The Tsar (baritone) is in town and would like to have his photograph taken by the fashionable photographer Angèle (soprano). But before he arrives, terrorists burst in and take the place of the photographer and her assistants, who are gagged and bound. The ‘shooting’ of the Tsar turns into a pun around which the rest of the plot revolves: the camera is loaded with a pistol. The Tsar wants a picture of himself as an ordinary citizen. The terrorists want his life. To emphasize his undespotic urbanity he appears in a light suit (with the orchestra playing foxtrot rhythms). His response to the charms of his would-be assassin, the False Angèle (soprano), is also thoroughly human. Rather than be ‘shot’ by her, he wants to switch roles just as she is about to release the shutter. Cliff-hanging horseplay ensues, with the Tsar trying to photograph the False Angèle instead. Eventually she manages to reassume the photographer’s role, but is again interrupted on the count of three. It is the Equerry (bass), who briefly appears to warn of a plot against the Tsar. Just as the False Angèle seems to be warming to the Tsar’s advances, there is a further interruption and warning from the Equerry. With a view to escaping, the False Angèle places a recording of the seductive ‘Tango Angèle’ on the gramophone, requesting that the Tsar avert his gaze while she undresses. The kidnappers take flight just before the real Angèle and her assistants enter, followed by the police. The chorus, which has been commenting on the action all along and sharing the False Angèle’s secret with the audience, announces the final event just as it had done at the beginning: ‘The Tsar has his photograph taken’....

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