Joseph Beer’s inspiration can be can be said to be tri-fold in nature: Slavic (Russian/Polish) with Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Scriabin among others, the Viennese School/German (mainly Brahms and Beethoven but also Mendelssohn and Mahler) and Italian (mainly Puccini.)
Despite his living in France for more than half of his life, the only French composers whose influence can be heard are Ravel mainly, and also Bizet at times.
Traces of jazz and Klezmer and sundry folk influences can also be detected in Beer’s oeuvre, as the composer believed, along with some of his predecessors such as Brahms, Mahler etc., that in order to be a bona fide classical composer, a musician must first be thoroughly acquainted with the popular level of his musical roots and heritage.
Three periods of compositional inspiration, style and technique emerge from Beer’s works:
1- Youth/Viennese Period: influenced by the Viennese operetta genre in some sense, yet, as Beer’s composition teacher and mentor Josef Marx himself wrote, going far beyond it through the complexity, depth and wealth of compositional genius and technique.
Works are churned out in a few weeks by an overly gifted, carefree youth who has been composing since age 7 (starting off by attempting to invent his own musical notation system!!) and to whom the art form comes as easy as reading a newspaper!
2- War/in Hiding Period: A total shift of inspiration and technique, with further depthening of the intricacy and sophistication of the compositional style and technique.
3- Post-War Maturity Period: Another total overhauling of compositional technique where the great composer is in full mastery of his art and puts forth timeless melodies set to lush, idiosyncratic harmonies, and totally innovative and masterful orchestration.
Beer’s operas are characterized by exquisite, gorgeous and unique arias which remain in the ear -- albeit always surprising the listener -- set to lush and innovative harmony. They include pieces which are effervescently rhythmical, at times, even jazzy.
Altogether, while stemming from the grand romantic tradition, Beer’s style reflects decidedly modernistic influences as well, while being utterly idiosyncratic and bearing its own griffe.
In sum, the oeuvre reveals a level of inspired craftsmanship which is truly innovative and unique. It can be easily recognized and set apart from all others, revealing the brilliant work of one of the leading composing masters of the 20th Century.
A Singspiel Opera in Three Acts with a Prologue
Libretto & Lyrics by
Fritz Löhner-Beda and Alfred Grünwald
Background Highlights & Synopsis
Ø Composed in but a few weeks by a youth in his mid twenties, Polnische Hochzeit, published by a branch of Universal Edition, Wiener Operetten Verlag, premiered on April 3, 1937 at the Zurich Opera House.
Ø During the 11 months following its premiere, it was performed internationally on over 40 stages and translated into 8 languages, sometimes bearing, as in Finland, the alternative title of Masurkka.
Ø In 1938, Maurice Lehmann, then director of the Théâtre du Châtelet, scheduled it for a French premiere starring Jan Kiepura and Marta Eggerth. Simultaneously, tenor superstar Richard Tauber was slated to be featured in a high profile Viennese production.
Ø Published by the Stockholm-based Arvid Englind Publishing Co., the opera continued to be performed with tremendous success in Scandanavia from 1939 until 2000 despite the composer’s lack of cooperation (please see www.JosephBeerComposer.com for further detail.)
Ø With the advent of the Anschluss March of 1938, the name of the “Jew Beer” was taken off the roster of the Theater an der Wien among others. With his life at stake, the composer had to flee Vienna, and all plans of performing Polnische Hochzeit were hence abruptly and permanently ended.
Ø Presently under contract with the major European publisher Doblinger Musikverlag and revived in Vienna (2012) and Germany (2013.)
Ø A major German premiere/live CD recording with the famed Munich Radio Orchestra and soloists along with the chorus from the renowned Gärtnerplatz Theatre -- under the baton of Maestro Ulf Schirmer of the Leipzig Opera -- with live broadcast by the Bayerischer Rundfunk, Germany national classical radio -- was released by the exclusive German classic label CPO in October 2016.
Jadja, Lyric/Spinto Soprano----------------------------------------Baron’s
Polnische Hochzeit is a joyous, entertaining folk tale with romantic overtones but no sentimentality. A comic character and a witty servant play the main roles, while the romantic leads are given the gorgeous, lush arias. Replete with a couple of coups de théâtre and ballets, this action-filled singspiel opera is a feast both for the ears and for the eyes.
The action takes place during the Polish war of independence from Russian occupation in the early 1800’s.
Prologue – Austro-Russian Border
Young Polish freedom fighter Count Boleslav crosses the border under the guise of a servant. He is returning to his homeland after many years in exile to marry his childhood sweetheart, Jadja, and to take possession of his paternal inheritance, presently administered by his uncle.
Act I – Count Oginsky’s Castle
The uncle, Count Staschek Zagorsky, is actually an astute, cowardly, part-Falstaff, part-Bluebeard of a man. He has been married five times, but each time, he divorced in favor of a younger woman. Just when Count Boleslav returns, he is about to wed Jadja. Arriving at the castle in disguise, Boleslav makes himself known to Jadja and while serving lunch to his uncle incognito, learns of the latter’s latest wedding plans.
Boleslav reveals himself to his uncle and demands his inheritance, while Jadja rejects the fellow’s marriage proposal. Only when Staschek threatens to expose Boleslav to the Russian police and have him sent to Siberia is Jadja forced to accept…
Act II – Count Oginsky’s Castle – Reception Hall
Preparations for the wedding are under way. Baron Oginsky’s castle is packed with guests, and the priest has been sent for. But Count Staschek had planned without the Baron’s administrator, Suza, a young bright and energetic woman nicknamed the “Wild Cat.” She is Jadja’s best friend and despises the old lecher. She has made plans for the lovers’ escape. Before the wedding ceremony takes place, the young couple is to be taken to safety beyond the border by the castle coachman. A rocket will be the signal of the success of the enterprise.
Count Staschek, awaiting the ceremony with great anticipation, celebrates the occasion with heavy drinking. All of a sudden, Suza spots through a window the rocket up in the sky. Triumphantly, she announces to the groom that his beautiful young bride is now far away beyond the border with her lover. But Staschek is not a bit disturbed. He had sensed a plot and sent his own coachman after the young couple. Jadja should be brought back to the castle any minute now. Suza’s plan seems doomed…
The wedding starts to the joyous rhythm of Polish traditional dances.
The bride is taken to an adjoining room to don her wedding apparel.
While the Polish ballet dances a spirited Mazurka, she is lead inside
the chapel, her face covered with opaque veils.
Act III - Large Room in Count Staschek’s Apartments
Suza has so mistreated her aging husband during their wedding night and
in a few subsequent encounters that the poor man is on his knees, ready
to accept all her conditions. The two star-crossed lovers are reunited
and are given their lawful inheritance. Suza marries her sweetheart,
Casimir. The old Staschek finally decides to give up women and to
dedicate the rest of his life to… wine! The opera ends with a grand
double Polish wedding, lively dancing and exuberant joy.
A Comic Opera in Seven Tableaux and an Interlude
Music, Libretto & Lyrics By
Alessandro Stradella -- Tenor
Crowd scene at the Venetian Jewish ghetto, the Giudecca. Freight is being downloaded onto the docks from incoming ships and sold on the Market. The Doge is among the crowd, masked, watching the beautiful young girls, “Verkaufer, der Tag er wird kommen.” He notices Raphaella and is struck by her beauty. He asks the two Comics Cortini and Longhini about her: she is an orphan on Countess Giulia’s staff. In the meantime, young girls spot a beautiful sail far on the waters. Prince Achilles comes onstage and sings of his love for Giulia in the aria, “Heil’ger Achilles!” Raphaella, spotting the sail on the shimmery waters, sings of her yearning to meet her true love at last, “Weit draussen im Sonnenglanz.”A voice is heard from the boat: Stradella sets foot ashore to the joyous cries of the crowd: “Evviva Stradella!” Stradella expresses his longing to find his true love in the aria, “Zur Sonne kling' empor”. Raphaella is ravished by his beautiful voice and “magic tones, “while a Mask approaches her and gives a bracelet, telling her he will clad her in velour and silk. The Mask exits, leaving Raphaella wondering whether it was Fate’s burning hand which just then grabbed hers, leading her to the “Magic Land”... The Tableau ends as the voice of the gondoliers is heard in the distance.
In Countess Giulia's Boudoir
Giulia awakens and describes her love dream in the aria, “Welch’ ein Traum.” While the gondoliers are heard outside singing Stradella’s aria, in comes Achilles who is madly in love with Giulia. In the duo, “Giulia! -- Ihr stürzt wie ein Blitz vom Himmel,” he asks that the window be shut as he hates Stradella and threatens to prevent him from singing at the Opera, “blood will flow”! He goes on telling Giulia how much he loves her, and how cruel and insensitive she is. She tells him she is about to write a letter to some “Duke” of Naples and that they will see each other at the Opera where the Doge is awaiting them. Achilles is doubtful, as the Doge seems to be involved in a new love affair. In comes Raphaella, who takes her leave of the Countess: the Doge is adopting her (“Komtess, wollen gütigst verzeihen.”) Once she has left, Giulia writes her letter to Stradella, “Caro mio, mein Herz eilt zu dir,” which she gives to the two Comics, Cortini and Longhini, to deliver to Stradella that evening at the Teatro La Fenice. She exits and in comes Achilles who bribes the two Comics to show him the letter in which Giulia invites Stradella to a rendez-vous after his triumph at the Opera. Achilles and the Comics plot a "Theater Scandal" during Stradella's performance in the trio, “Giulia! Mein Engel!”
1. Intermezzo (In front of the curtain, on the bridge)
The two Comics summarize the plot, including the riot they’ve been bribed to start in just a little while.
2. In the Foyer of the Teatro la Fenice
Achille and the two Comics start a riot in the trio, “Wo sind die Leute?!” But Stradella manages to come on stage anyway. At first a bit resentful and apprehensive, he succeeds in singing his big aria, “Was wär die Liebe ohne Venedig” as the noise makers quiet down. He is subsequently hailed by the crowd and praised by Raphaella, Giulia and the Doge in the quartet, “Sehnsucht und Lieb’.” At the end of the Tableau, Giulia hands Stradella her glove, in which she has inserted a love note. Raphaella comes back looking for her own glove, and Stradella tells her he recalls her beautiful eyes from the Giudecca. He reveals to her that he has on him the flower she threw him then, as she runs off...
A Room in the Doge’s Palace
The Doge, gazing at the shimmering sea, muses on the “eyes full of fire” he beheld at the Giudecca, and which he now seems to see everywhere in his Palace, in the aria, “Fliegt Tauben Weit Zum Meer.” Raphaella comes in humming Stradella’s aria. The Doge reveals to her that the scandal during Stradella’s performance was plotted by Achilles out of jealousy. He is proud of Stradella for standing his ground and will throw a party in his honor, in which Raphaella will be the “Königin,” the queen. He then reveals to her that he wants her rather than as his daughter, as his lover. In comes Stradella whom the Doge has brought in to give Raphaella a voice lesson.
As the Doge exits, the “voice lesson duet”, “Singet nun, ich möchte eure Stimme hören,” starts with Raphaella singing brilliant coloratura, which completely charms Stradella. He compliments her profusely, and at first a bit doubtful, Raphaella gives into her own feelings for Stradella. Midstream, she starts to doubt again, and the two end up in a shouting match. The Doge comes in asking the reason for the uproar, but Stradella tells him it’s just part of the play they are rehearsing, while Raphaella fears that the Doge has overheard their cooing and will have Stradella killed. The Doge asks Raphaella to sing for him what she just learned, and the Tableau closes on a beautiful end to this stormy love duet.
Kleines Zwischenbild (Prior to Bild V)
Longhini & Cortini in a Gondola in Front of the Screen.
Longhini, dressed as a Monk, is carrying a small package, with Cortini as gondolier. Both are singing. Cortini tries to steal Longhini’s package. Longhini says that he wants to be at the Piazza when the police arrive to arrest Stradella during the Venetian Carnival. Longhini himself alerted them when he learned from Raphaella that she and Stradella wanted to elope. Cortini then suggests warning Countess Giulia as well -- which he thinks would benefit the two of them financially – but Longhini has already taken care of it.
The Venetian Carnival
While the chorus predicts a fatal fate, Raphaella and Stradella meet and plan to elope at midnight to get married at the San Maddalena church. Strange Masks are surrounding them. While Raphaella fears that they are the envoys of the Doge, Stradella boldly sings that Orpheus’ power and beautiful voice will charm all the powers of the inferno in the aria, “Fern aus den Sphaeren mit magischem Strahl.” While the Masks have all come to a halt and are “frozen,” Raphaella and Stradella take refuge in a nearby tavern, while the two Crooks are busy emptying everyone’s pockets. In comes Achilles in search of Giulia, in the aria, “Giulia, Giulia, Giulia…Achilles rennt von früh bis spät,” bemoaning the fact that Giulia does not love him despite all his efforts. Come in Cortini and Longhini who mock him a bit. Then, they start whispering words into Achilles’ ear, upon which the latter first hands them some money, then furious, draws his sword. He subsequently sings of vengeance against Giulia, the "false serpent,” as well as against Stradella.
In the meantime, the two Comics notice Stradella and Raphaella in the tavern. Giulia arrives, thinking that the Monk who told her to be at the Piazza at 11:00pm sharp is an envoy of Stradella, whom she is eager to see. In the trio, “Der Kapuziner sagte mir,” the two Comics then approach Giulia, promising her that the “Monk” will lead her to Stradella’s nest. In the meantime, Stradella and Raphaella come out of the tavern, and everyone meets face to face. Achille draws his sword, only to run off when Stradella draws his. A big drawl ensues, but all are silenced at the entrance of a Mask. All exit except for Giulia.
The Mask is actually the Doge who has come along with his hitmen to arrest Stradella. Stradella sings his big aria, "Zur Sonne kling’ empor", while the chorus is encouraging him. At the end of the Tableau, the two Comics are arrested.
In Front of the Curtain
The Capitano of the Sbirri interrogates the two Comics as to Stradella’ whereabouts. They reveal that the latter is at the San Maddalena Church, getting ready to marry Raphaella.
The San Maddalena Church
The Monks are singing backstage, praying to the Madonna for Stradella’s sake (“Dir heilige Madonna”), as the hitmen walk on, masked (“Bis das Brautpaar”.) Stradella and Raphaella are kneeling in front of the altar, praying (“Heil’ge Madonna in Himmelshöh’n”.) The Capitano of the Sbirri interrupts them, telling Stradella that he has orders from the Doge to have him killed. He apologizes, explaining that “duty is duty.” Stradella responds that he understands, but as his last wish, he asks that the priest performing the wedding be allowed to perform his duty as well. Stradella will accompany the ceremony with his own singing. The Capitano gives his consent. Raphaella and Stradella start to pray together, then Stradella prays the Virgin by himself fervently in the aria, "Hoch aus dem Himmel mit feurigem Strahl," asking for a miracle. The Sbirri start to twitch and feel quite uncomfortable, and they end up kneeling as well, while Raphaella joins Stradella in prayer (“Heilige Himmels Königin”) as Celestial Voices are heard praising God. The act ends with the Priest marrying Stradella and Raphaella, as Giulia walks on, screaming in horror.
Giulia and Achilles end up together, as the chorus reveals that Stradella’s life was saved, and that he was able to marry Raphaella after all. The Doge comes on stage telling the newly weds that all of Venice supports them, why try to flee then? In the trio, “Entschied für uns,” Raphaella rejoices that her fairytale, her dream is coming true, swearing eternal love to Venice, while Stradella thanks Venice for making the dream a reality, as the Doge blesses both of them and sets them free, telling Raphaella that he will always love her. A gondola pulls up and Stradella and Raphaella take their leave as the chorus sings Stradella’s first aria, “Zu Sonne kling’ empor," ending the opera with "Alles singt… Stradellas Lied, ja singt, ja singt!!!!!!”