The parents of my friend KS - who lived most of their life in Switzerland and reached a venerable age - obviously went to the Royal Opera in Stockholm on the 9th of January 1931 - which was a Friday - to see and hear Puccini's Madame Butterfly (217th performance in the house) with Helga Görlin and Einar Beyron, father of later famous soprano Catarina Ligendza, conducted by Nils Grevillius. At least their daughter and her husband Bo D. more than 81 years later presented me a program of that occasion which they had found clearing out the parental home. A note tells us that next day there will be the premier performance of Carl Nielsen's Saul and David - some of us know that the second tenor part, Jonathan, in this opera was one of Jussi Björling's debut role. But who in January 1931 would have known of his coming fame? We are also told that on Sunday at 1.30 one can see Swedish folkplay with music, Wermlänningarne, and Tosca at 8 in the evening.
Apart from the action of the evening's opera and a short note on Puccini, the program contains one article on recent opera performances in Dresden - by one Esther Levertin (Germany wasstill safe for somebody with a name like that in 1930) - and another on theatre in Paris by Bror Centervall. The bulk of the slender brochure was used both by the Royal Opera and the Royal Dramatic Theatre, changing only pages 17-20 for the different performances. The back cover in somewhat thicker paper can be used as postcards (!) with Görlin as Louise in Charpentier's at this time very popular naturalistic opera and Beyron as Louise's lover, Julien. ("Stamps and post box in entrancehall.") I am almost tempted to address them to somebody, put on stamps on and send them, like they just had been delayed in the mail for 81 years.
But the most impressive thing with this very unimpressive little collectors item is perhaps an inlay, a thin brownish sheet of paper, which tells us the program of the ten (10) remaining (!) subscription performances for the spring of 1931: Auber's Fra Diavolo, Verdi's Rigoletto and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci with a ballet (all three conducted by world famous conductor Leo Blech from Berlin), Saul and David, Rossini's Wilhelm Tell, Max Brand's Maschinist Hopkins - a radical new "Zeitoper" by one the first composers who helped construct and also used a syntheziser - as well as Boito's Mefistofele, Mozart's Figaro and Puccini's Bohème, while the program for the last subscription night on April 20th is announced as "not yet decided". Not so strange in those days - Ms Levertin tells us the Dresden Opera just three weeks before the first night had decided to go for a world creation of a shorter new piece - not yet finished by the composer and some years later given also in Stockholm - for a double-bill in the autumn of 1930.
The Royal Opera's repertoire for 1930/31 consisted of 52 opera and ballet works performed and apart from the premieres of Louise, Saul and David and Maschinist Hopkins as well as Herve's operetta Mlle Nitouche there were new productions of Wilhelm Tell and Auber's Le domino noir. Hm. Yes, there was very little ballet outside the operas in this period, especially in that season, and many productions were superannuated. For the level of musicianship we must go to radio live recordings only as far back as two years later 1933/34 - a very hig level it seems, by the way. And of course we know about reduced working hours and how much more everyone must be paid today. Yes, we know the history of our industry and all arguments why everything must be much better today - but still: This old program book surfing up from the past tells us probably something about how an audience must be taught opera as an art form and a tradition of performing works of the most various genres must be maintained. And makes me say - like Gurnemanz in his shortest line - Hm. What have we gained, what have we lost in almost a century of opera? Not to turn the clock back - what madman would want that? - but to reflect about the art form and its way of representing itself for an audience.
Max Brand - composer of "Zeitoper" Maschinist Hopkins (1929, Stockholm 193o/31) - and his first Moog syntheziser - more about that very different story on http://moogfoundation.org/2010/from-the-archives-moogtonium-discovered/
We might return to the Royal Swedish Opera - from a less nostalgic viewpoint than dusty old brochures - and its role in presenting new international repertoire during most of the 20th century. For some periods at least one new foreign opera was presented - in Swedish tranlation - every year. Curious about the rest of the world they were at least in these years long bygone. My friends parents chose Butterfly ... but who knows if they as young people of their day didn't go for Maschinist Hopkins as well?