To say Yvonne Kalman is devoted to her father’s oeuvre would be a gross
understatement. Kalman has been traveling the world for many years to attend
performances of Hungarian Jewish composer Emmerich Kalman’s
Our paths recently crossed in Budapest where we both went to a
performance of The Csardas Princess for which Kalman Sr. wrote the music in
1913, to a libretto by written by Leo Stein and Béla Jenbach.
It is the
most entertaining of musical vehicles which will be performed at the Israeli
Opera House in Tel Aviv between December 12 and December 19. The shows will be
accompanied by surtitles in English and Hebrew, and will be performed by
soloists, dancers and the chorus of the Budapest Operetta and Musical Theater
with instrumental support provided by the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra along
with players from the Budapest Operetta Theater.
Despite being only a
child when her father died in 1953, Kalman has clear and fond memories of him
and some of his exploits.
One of the most incredible episodes in the
composer’s life occurred in 1938, following the Anschluss, when amazingly it is
said that Hitler offered Emmerich Kalman the title of “honorary Aryan” as one of
the German leader’s favorite composers.
“Yes, that’s absolutely true,”
says Kalman, although noting that the Kalman family was essentially out of the
clutches of the Nazi regime by then.
Although Emmerich Kalman had
initially planned on becoming a concert pianist, following the early onset of
arthritis he focused on composition instead. He studied music theory and
composition at the Budapest Academy of Music, where he was a fellow student of
Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály.
His early symphonic poems Saturnalia and
Endre es Johanna were well received, although he failed to achieve publication.
He also composed piano music and wrote many songs, including a song cycle based
on poems by Ludwig Jacobowski, and a song collection published under the title
Kalman Sr. also began to develop an entertaining writing style,
particularly of humorous cabaret songs, and this naturally evolved into the
composition of operettas. His first great success was The Gay Hussars, which was
first staged at the Lustspieltheater in Budapest, on February 22, 1908.
Thereafter he moved to Vienna where he achieved worldwide fame through his
operettas The Blue House, Maritza, The Circus Princess and The Csardas
However, as the Nazi regime tightened its stranglehold on
Jewish life he decided enough was enough and moved with his family to France. It
was there that a personal emissary of Hitler caught up with him and made him an
offer the composer simply had to refuse.
“It was in March 1940, just
before the Germans invaded France,” Kalman recalls. “Hitler sent a general to
make the offer to my father. My father listened to him and asked the general who
would guarantee his life after he went to Germany, and the general said ‘I
will.’ And then my father said, ‘but who will guarantee yours?’ And that was the
end of that.”
The composer was evidently made of sterner stuff. “Yes, my
father was a courageous man. I think we got on a ship out of Genoa the very next
day and made for the States.
My father knew the writing was on the
Most of all, though, Kalman is proud of her father’s creative
output, and especially the show that is coming to Tel Aviv later this week. The
basic storyline, with its maze of crisscrossing romantic fervor, features a
fun-loving aristocrat by the name of Edwin who loves cabaret star Sylva Varescu,
and spends much of his time at the Budapest Orpheum, which hosts cabaret shows
of questionable character. There Edwin mixes with undesirables of inferior
In an effort to put an end to his son’s social
transgressions, Edwin’s father packs him off to the army and lines up a marriage
to his far more socially acceptable cousin Stasi. Meanwhile, Sylvia and Edwin’s
friend Boni become romantically attached and the romantic plot
“The Csardas Princess is a wonderful show,” declares Kalman,
“because you all these relationships going on. It’s the same old story of trying
to get two lovers together.” So, her dad was a romantic. “Absolutely,” concurs
Kalman, “and this show even has a happy end.”
Kalman Sr. hailed from
Hungary and moved to Vienna, the center of the Austro- Hungarian empire, where
romance was all the rage. And the combination of his native and adopted cultures
appears to be a perfect exciting fit.
“I always used to say, when people
asked me about my father’s music, that he wrote in Technicolor. You can see and
hear that in the operetta. He did all his own orchestrations and they are very
rich. I was recently in Dresden to see the operetta, and it was played with a
110-piece orchestra, and it sounded wonderful.”
The entourage for the Tel
Aviv dates is not quite that big, but the combination of the Hungarian actors
and singers and the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra should do the trick. “The
Csardas Princess always sounds good,” declares Kalman, “at least to
Interestingly, too, the composer also combined his love of serious
classical music with the more down-and-dirty vibes of folk music, and this is
one of the keys to his success and the enduring popularity of his
Kalman is not alone in her praise of her father’s work and,
particularly, The Csardas Princess. The operetta has been garnering rave reviews
around the world for a century, and will probably continue to do so for many a
For tickets and more information: (03) 692- 7777 and