THIS WEEK: Thursday and Friday, 4 & 5 February, at the Bloomsbury
The Tsar wants his photograph taken
A night at the opera—a blend of the (not quite) brothers Marx
Karl and Groucho—(actually) Kurt Weill and Georg Kaiser on the run
from the Nazis
Call me Max Bialystok (in my dreams).
Join us for a funny, moving, and spectacularly creative presentation
of the Kurt Weill/Georg Kaiser opera buffa (a 'comic' opera in a
single act), The Tsar wants his photograph taken.
An extremely popular show in late Weimar Germany, the Nazis came to
power and immediately shut it down.
The Tsar wants his photograph taken is only rarely staged, in part due
to the complexity of the music. But another reason why it did not
take on much of an afterlife, after the end of the Second World War,
is because the story was not well understood or appreciated.
In the same way that successful plays and musicals, such as the recent
hits The Book of Mormon and The Curious Incident of the Dog in
Night-Time originate from specific historical moments, The Tsar wants
his photograph taken was conceived when the Soviet Union seemed
stable, and it was possible to take a somewhat nostalgic look back at
the Russian Empire. The Tsar was, after all, a human being. Was it
not possible that he would like for his picture to be taken, as befits
a proper bourgeois gentleman? Why not seek the services of Angele,
the leading photographer of Paris, renowned as an alluring genius with
But that's not all. The anarchists have been listening in and
interfering. They seek to replace Angele, at the appointed time, with
one of their own--and put a gun in the back of the camera—to murder
Along with the jarring music, catchy story-line, and dramatic action
(which includes slapstick), there were unstated subtexts. Audiences
in Germany knew well that Kurt Weill was a Jew, and that while not
overtly Jewish, the play involved characters who could be assumed to
be Jewish—villains and heroes.
And it would have been taken for granted, at the time, that the
photographer her- or himself, might have been a Jew. Photography was
a heavily Jewish trade. The Tsar was comfortable and familiar, as
were the other crowned heads of Europe, with Jews as photographers.
Beyond the historical interest, the opera represents a distinctive
enterprise in several respects. Staged at UCL's Bloomsbury (Theatre)
Studio, it is a cooperative effort between recent graduates and
current students from Oxford, Kings College London, Guildhall,
Columbia University, the Royal Academy of Music, and UCL. The
director, conductor, pianist, and performers have graced stages from
China and Singapore to the United States—as well as throughout Europe
and the UK. The background of the participants further reflect a vast
diversity of training and expertise in the arts and sciences.
And the singing alone is well worth a visit. Catch the incredible
Kate Smith, Charlotte Nohavicka, and Betty Makharinsky before they hit
Covent Garden. See the dashing Tim Frith, Christopher Holman, Angus
McPhee, and Gareth Davies, and rising stats Amy McPherson and Azura
You can say you saw a show of Leo Doulton, director, and Johann von
Stuckenbruck, a few years before they became as famous as Chris Martin
and Ricky Gervais.