Saturday, June 12, 2010

“Die Blume von Hawaii”

Die Blume von Hawaii is an operetta by the Hungarian composer Paul Abraham. It premiered at Leipzig in 1931, in the period immediately before the Nazi takeover of Germany. The work was allegedly inspired by the story of Liliʻuokalani.

Brief synopsis:
  • After the US Army has deposed the Hawaiian Queen, Princess Laya returns from Paris to her homeland, where she must choose between a native prince and an American marine officer — while at the same time fighting off a ruthless governor who is plotting to make her renounce her claim to the throne.

Born in 1892, Abraham was educated at the Budapest Academy of Music and upon completing his studies establish himself as a composer of serious art music. His works were heard at major European music festivals, and he gained a reputation as a conductor of Hungarian liturgical music. In 1927, Abraham assumed the post of conductor of the Budapest Operetta Theater.

With the advent of sound film in 1929 Abraham began scoring German and Hungarian musical films. He had four successive hits between 1930 and 1932. For the second of these, Abraham joined forces with the librettist Alfred Grünwald. The result was Die Blume von Hawaii, a huge success, with its mix of South Seas exotica and Continental chic — it was praised as a groundbreaking work for its depiction of characters with a new, edgier realism. But it soon attracted unfavorable attention from the emerging National Socialist regime. Two years later the Nazis banned it as “Degenerate Art.”

The following excerpt is from the 1953 film version of Die Blume von Hawaii directed by Géza von Cziffra. The featured singer is William Stelling.

A Jew, Abraham had to flee Germany when the Nazis seized power and eventually landed in New York, where he failed to establish himself in musical circles and was committed to a hospital in 1946 after a mental breakdown. When word reached Germany about his plight, a foundation was established, which enabled him to live out the remaining years of his life in Hamburg. He died in 1960.

Despite its vicissitudes, Die Blume von Hawaii has managed to maintain its place in the repertoire of German-speaking opera houses. George Barati, former conductor of the Honolulu Symphony, knew the music and composer well. It was filmed twice — once in 1933 before the Nazi takeover and again in 1953. There was also an adaptation made for television in 1971. It continues to be revived with success, most recently in Cologne in 2009 and this past February at the Vienna Volksopera.

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Blogger motodiva said...

How'd you ever find this site? It was sooo50's. I think Abraham suffered a nervous breakdown for a reason, perhaps an overdose of kitch.

Did you see the real Hawaiian musicians?

June 15, 2010 at 2:23 AM  

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