Sweden Paul Abraham, Märchen im Grand-Hotel (A Fairytale in the Grand Hotel): Soloists, ensemble, Gothenburg Opera Orchestra / Alexander Hanson (conductor). Gothenburg Opera main stage, 22.4.2023. (NS)
Hot on the heels of a superb production of Cabaret (reviewed here) the Gothenburg Opera is following with a light comedy operetta, this time not only set in the Thirties but also composed in 1934 by the then-superstar composer Paul Abraham. Abraham created a series of blockbuster hit operettas that were huge successes in the last years of Weimar Germany but as a Jew writing ‘degenerate’ music full of jazz influences he was persecuted by the Nazis and exiled as soon as they came to power. Together with his collaborators Alfred Grünewald and Fritz Löhner-Beda (also exiled) his first post-exile operetta for Vienna was written on a more intimate scale for smaller stages.
Märchen im Grand-Hotel was adapted from a play about a hotel waiter falling in love with a princess, but with an added framing story (and second love interest) of a Hollywood heiress going to Cannes to find a true-life story among exiled European royalty – with the aim of persuading the royals to play themselves in a film of their lives. Heidi Saikkonen’s elegant set is based on a turntable and combines Art Deco glamour with fairytale whimsy (such as the Infanta’s bathtub in the shape of a swan) to beautiful effect. Her costumes sometimes nod more towards the slapstick elements such as the comically self-important Spanish baron with huge moustache and castanets(!).
The Prologue in Hollywood introduces film magnate Sam Mackintosh (Åke Zetterström in fine comic form) whose studio is teetering towards bankruptcy due to underhand competition nabbing all the best scenarios. Mackintosh’s daughter Marylou proposes her audacious plan after an impressive opening song and dance number about how money makes the world go round (although the impact was impaired by a hazy atmosphere). Karin Mårtenson Ghods plays Marylou with great panache and stage presence and brings out her independent-mindedness and eagerness to prove herself as a businesswoman and filmmaker. She has great fun when disguised as a maid in Act II.
The first dispossessed royal she meets at the Grand Hotel in Cannes is Prince Andreas Stephan of Austria (David Lundqvist), an amusingly eccentric and rather rascally Habsburg who is engaged to the exiled Infanta (Crown Princess) Isabella of Spain. Lundqvist initially emphasises the eccentricity of his character but morphs during the operetta into more of a loveable rogue, with a particularly fine duet with Marylou in Act II. Of the minor characters in the Infanta’s entourage the most vividly characterised is her lady-in-waiting Countess Inez de Ramirez, played with elegant poise and just the right aristocratic arrogance by Natasja Jean-Charles. The scene where she and Isabella discover that they have feelings for the same man is priceless.
Infanta Isabella is played with marvellous hauteur by Micaela Sjöstedt, who adroitly handles a character that matures and develops more than any other in this story. She handles the situation comedy and slapstick with confidence while her wistful soprano is particularly lovely when her character shows her vulnerability in the second act, first in a heart-to-heart with elegant hotel owner M. Chamoix (Lars Hjertner in fine form) and then in the climactic scene with Albert where she confesses her love but says she can never marry an ordinary Monsieur.
Anders Wängdahl brings an attractive matinee-idol tenor with particularly fine solos to the role of Albert the hotel waiter. Albert is in a way a fish out of water like Isabella: a rich and refined young man just graduated from Oxford but sent by his father the hotel owner to learn the business from the shop floor for six months, incognito. Wängdahl’s characterisation of Albert is sensitive and sympathetic, and his slapstick acting in Albert’s many embarrassing situations is very funny.
Fredrik Fischer and Linnea Sjunnesson’s lively new Swedish translation of the libretto is funny and poignant by turns. But they couldn’t entirely make up for the fact that the original librettists gave more detail and interest to the Isabella-Albert love story than the Marylou-Andreas Stephan romance, although a funny if slightly contrived plot twist in the Epilogue achieves a Hollywood happy ending for all concerned. Paul Abraham’s music is stylish and entertaining under the baton of Alexander Hansson. As a fairytale for adults and children Märchen im Grand-Hotel is a fun evening’s entertainment.
Playing until 9 June. Tickets and more information click here.
Direction – Mirja Burlin
Choreography – Magnus Lundgren
Set and Costume design – Heidi Saikkonen
Lighting design – Joakim Brink
Sound design – Jonathan Assarsson
Assistant choreographer – Jacob Walleberg
Sam Mackintosh – Åke Zetterström
Marylou Mackintosh – Karin Mårtenson Ghods
Albert – Anders Wängdahl
Infanta Isabella – Micaela Sjöstedt
Prince Andreas Stephan – David Lundqvist
M. Chamoix – Lars Hjertner
Matard – Ingahlill Wagelin
Countess Inez de Ramirez – Natasja Jean-Charles
Mabel – Åsa Sjöblom
Bellboy – Jacob Andréas
Barry – Tobias Ahlsell
Dryser – Jonathan Böiers
Baron don Lossas San Diego – Sami Yousri
Grand Duke Peter Paul – Markus Christensen
Onstage pianist – Bernard Matracki
Ensemble – Julia Carlström, Hilma Gudjonsdottir, Elin Ljungberg, Robert Sillberg, Jesper Blomberg, Gustaf Jönsson