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Intoxicating opera: European premiere of Marc Blitzstein’s Triple-Sec

On 14 March 2015, Marc Blitzstein’s short opera Triple-Sec will receive its European premiere at the Berlin Konzerthaus directed by Tobias Ribitzki. Following its first performance in Philadelphia in 1929, the work was a frequent feature in the opera house and Blitzstein enjoyed subsequent fame as a musical theatre composer across America. However, with the spread of anti-Semitism in Europe during the Second World War Blitzstein’s reputation suffered and his name disappeared from concert programmes. Triple-Sec lay forgotten and unperformed for many years and was rediscovered only recently in an American music archive.

Triple-Sec is named after the triple distilled liqueur made from Curacao oranges, and this not-so-subtle clue highlights the focal theme of the opera. Written to be performed on cabaret stages where liquor was generally served during the performances, Blitzstein parodies the growing inebriation of the audience: during the course of the opera the protagonists appear to multiply up to eight times, whilst the spectators are left wondering whether this is part of the show or a result of the cabaret bar. Blitzstein’s woozy musical style only serves to increase the effect. Despite its debauched themes and light-hearted style, Triple-Sec was not written simply for its comedic value. The work also contains a very personal form of social criticism which Blitzstein expressed in the journal “People’s World” in 1941:

I was slamming the smug people and traditions I had been brought up with. It was a philosophy of denial of their values. Actually, it was a process of clearing the field. I had been trained as a composer-pet of certain circles and I was tired of it. – Marc Blitzstein

Evan Christ conducts the performance on 14 March, in a co-production by Berlin Konzerthaus and Komische Oper. The programme also features George Gershwin’s jazz opera Blue Monday.

Photo: Konzerthaus Berlin / Corbis Images