At the Kroll Opera

Berlin 1927–1933


"Zemlinsky is absolutely top class"
Kurt Weill


Zemlinsky left Prague in 1927 and took up an appointment as kapellmeister at the Kroll Opera in Berlin.


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Berlin, Platz der Republik where the Kroll Opera was located; photo dating from around 1930. The house was opened in 1924 as the second venue of the Berlin State Opera. The official name was Oper am Platz der Republik, but people referred to it only as the Kroll Opera because until the First World War it had been the site of a pleasure establishment called Krolls Etablissement.

As regards the position he took up it was a step backwards and yet Zemlinsky could expect more exciting artistic stimuli than were possible in Prague after 16 years. This was true of the performance schedule of the house, which had a strong orientation to modern works and was open to unconventional productions, as well as the encounter with many renowned artists. For instance, while Otto Klemperer was director, conductors such as George Szell, Erich Kleiber and Leo Blech performed here as well as Zemlinsky; great stage directors and designers worked here such as László Moholy-Nagy, Gustav Gründgens, Oskar Schlemmer, Ewald Duelberg, Arthur Maria Rabenalt and Ernst Legal. However, the "Experiment Kroll Opera" was only short-lived. It soon became obvious that the ambitious artistic concept did not always realise its aims, it did not reach the masses and ultimately it became increasingly caught up in political crossfire. As Zemlinsky was mainly responsible for the house's conventional repertoire, as a conductor he had only a few artistic highlights, for instance Les contes d'Hoffmann in the sets by Moholy-Nagy and in 1931 the performance of Weill's Mahagonny in the Theater am Kurfürstendamm (stage-director: Caspar Neher). At this time the Kroll Opera had already been closed for half a year, officially because of budget cuts but in reality it was because of pressure from right-wing radical circles who took exception to the house's style.

After the theatre had been closed, Zemlinsky taught at the Berlin Academy of Music, had many conducting engagements outside Berlin, made some recordings and above all had more time to compose. He concentrated on a new opera that he completed in 1932: Der Kreidekreis (The Chalk Circle) based on Klabund.


On 31 January 1929, after a serious illness, Zemlinsky's wife Ida died; only one year later, on 4 January 1930 he married the singer Louise Sachsel, whom he had already met in 1915 in Prague.


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Louise Sachsel, photograph dating from around 1924. Zemlinsky met Louise, who was born in 1900 in Podwoloczyska (Ukraine), when she auditioned for the choir of the Prague Theatre in 1915 and he gave her a few singing lessons. The friendship with the pretty and intelligent singer soon became a relationship of love. Louise studied singing for a few years at the Academy of Music in Vienna; in 1924 she auditioned as a soloist and was engaged for small roles. She also performed at the Vienna Volksoper twice. Louise was also a talented painter and she studied from 1918 – 21 at the Prague Academy of Art. When she gave up singing she devoted herself entirely to painting and also became preoccupied with Rudolf Steiner's ideas about anthroposophy.
Image Louise and Alexander Zemlinsky in the Dolomites. Photo dating from around 1930. Louise always emphasised that Alexander was not so short as people often claimed. "Zemlinsky was moderately tall. That is written in his German passport. He was as tall as me and for a woman I was rather tall."


After Hitler came to power it was impossible for Zemlinsky to continue his profession in Berlin and in summer 1933 he left the city with Louise and returned to Vienna.