Schlagobers. Whipped Cream. Performers not stated. There haven’t been many.
Strauss wrote this two-act ballet in 1921-22, at the beginning of the so-called fallow years which followed Die Frau ohne Schatten and ended with Daphne.
The only complete recording I have ever heard of is from the ’80s. Hiroshi Wakasugi, Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra.
A Straussian, in charitable mood, can defend even Schlagobers if he doesn’t know the story. One can enjoy a failure. Even Strauss’s longueurs are for connoisseurs. But a failure it is.
Premiere: Vienna State Opera, May 9 1924. Later that year would come his first postwar opera, Intermezzo, premiered in Dresden. Strauss was co-director of the Vienna Staatsoper with Franz Schalk from 1919 until 1924.
Choreography: Heinrich Kröller.
Characters: Die Prinzessin Pralinée – Fürst Nicolo, ihr Hofmarschall – Prinzessin Teeblüte – Prinz Kaffee – Prinz Kakao – Don Zuckero – Mademoiselle Marianne Chartreuse – Ladislaw Slivowitz – Boris Wutki – Firmlinge mit ihren Paten – Arzt – Knallbonbons – kleine Pralinées – Quittenwürstchen – 4 Herolde mit Trompeten – Chor der Marzipane, Lebkuchen und Zwetschgenmänner – Orientalische Magier – Gugelhupfe – Weihnachtsstollen – Schillerlocken – Schmalznudeln – Kaffeestriezel – Schlagobers.
The extravagance of the production – it cost four billion Kronen, a contemporaneous new staging of Rienzi allegedly only two hundred million, but during hyperinflation, do such comparisons mean anything? – led to it being dubbed, at a time of food-shortages, the Milliardenballett. Strauss, lamely: “I cannot bear the tragedy of the present time. I want to create joy.”
Story: I believe Strauss’s wife Pauline had something to do with it. A group of children celebrate their confirmation by visiting a Konditorei. The confections come to life, with marzipan marches and cocoa dances. Having overindulged, one of the boys becomes ill and goes to hospital, where he has hallucinations concerning a rebellion against Princess Pralinée and her court led by lowlier creations such as Gugelhupfe.
A contemporary illustration shows the riot pacified by an oversized barrel of Hofbräu beer. At one stage Strauss planned a Revolution Polka led by Jewish matzos, who were going to wave red banners above the proletarian cakes.
Marianne Chartreuse, Ladislaw Slivovitz and Boris Wutki form an amorous trio. I am not sure whether it is Ladislaw or Boris who gets Marianne, but the original intention was to have a German, Michel Schnapps, winning her hand as a symbol of reconciliation, or even of a resurgent Germany. This was taken out after the Occupation of the Ruhr (1923-25).
We have here Tanz der Kakao; Tanz des Zuckers; Reigen (round dances) von Zucker, Kaffee und Kakao; and Schlagoberswalzer. The orchestra isn’t bad, but we need just a bit more character in the playing. The second half of the first minute of the Tanz der Kakao seems to look forward to the late concerti.
The Viennese can’t dance. Or rather, their abilities go as far as the waltz. The anyway undancerly Schlagobers has rarely or never been revived. Strauss’s Diaghilev ballet, Josephslegende (Paris Opera, May 14 1914), had been somewhat more successful, even though “the chaste Joseph isn’t at all up my street, and if a thing bores me I find it difficult to set it to music”.
If the Schlagobers plot reminds you of The Nutcracker, it is worth remembering the almost incredible fact that Tchaikovsky’s ballet had still not been performed in the West. (The first performance outside Russia was in Budapest in 1927, of an abridged version. The first complete performance was in London in 1934.) There is nothing Tchaikovskyan in Richard Strauss, but you can find the influence of The Nutcracker in more than one work by Ravel.
Alex Ross surely makes too much of the relationship between Mahler and Strauss in The Rest Is Noise. It seems to me, at least, a matter of almost no significance. I love AR’s quiet journalism, and have a few quibbles with the book.
While on this Schlag theme, one of my mother’s schoolteachers during the War described Strauss’s songs, a little contemptuously, as Edelschlager.