Die Blume von Hawaii

Take a few cups of romance, a soupçon of intrigue, and several big dashes of nineteenth-century geopolitics: add a plot strewn with secret identities, misread motivations, and difficult choices; stir in a farrago of music in which the exotic meets the traditional, the foxtrot meets the waltz, and the steel guitar meets the saxophone; and garnish with a storyline that leaps gracefully from Hawaii to Monte Carlo. Mix them all together, shake well, and the resultant tropical cocktail is Die Blume von Hawaii -- both a lush and unusual flowering of the musical theater tradition, and a brilliant reaction against the creeping fossilization that from the end of the nineteenth century had been steering the operetta format toward extinction.

It would be difficult to find an modern operetta with a more eventful developmental and performance history than Blume. Created in the slowly darkening cultural shadow of 1930s Germany by a composer forced to flee Europe ahead of the pre-World War II German crackdown on the arts, Paul Abraham’s Die Blume von Hawaii brings together characters wearing a new and slightly edgier realism with the nostalgic and melodic qualities that have always distinguished the best in operetta. Before escaping to the New World with its gifted composer, the work suffered the ennobling indignity of being banned by the second World War regime as “decadent art”, and its score was thought to have been destroyed. Fortunately for modern listeners this was not the case; the lively musical and dramatic creativity of Die Blume von Hawaii stands out among the light operatic work of its time -- so much so that it has been filmed three times.

While Blume contains long-established musical tropes such as the march and waltz, it also features such unexpected felicities as the foxtrot and Charleston, and the rhythms of swing and jazz, expressed in a mélange of languages. And though the subject material may feature in common with older operettas such familiar themes as wandering bluebloodery and arranged (or expected) marriages gone wrong, these concepts have been subverted or turned on their heads for the younger and more discriminating audiences of a new century. The title character Prinzessin Laya distances herself from her relationship with her people and her island not out of mere wanderlust, but from a desire to keep clear of her homeland’s painful entanglements with its new colonial masters. Over the course of Die Blume von Hawaii Laya discovers that such ties – political or personal -- are impossible to cut cleanly, and she finally rises willingly to the challenge posed by them, drawing her fellow protagonists along with her to a happy ending. This potentially weighty (or just plain heavy) material is made not just palatable but delightful by Abrahams’ light touch and the cheerful eclecticism of his instrumental and vocal scoring.

Siphiwe McKenzie Edelmann brings her own unique multicultural outlook to the title role in this new Vienna Volksoper production of Die Blume von Hawaii. The production will be directed by artistic polymath Helmut Baumann, whose Volksoper production of Orpheus in the Underworld was such a huge success, and conducted by rising star and contemporary music theatre expert Joseph Olefirowicz, highly acclaimed for his conducting at the Volksoper in last season's new production of Guys and Dolls. Come spend a hibiscus-scented evening swinging between demimonde Europe and the island-paradise Hawaii of a century ago, with the sounds of the Age of Jazz setting the beat!

Dates for Siphiwe's performances are:

February 7, 9, 12, 15 | March 29 | April 10, 12