At Play In The Archive
Here is the next installment in the adventures of my great-grandpa Leo Lessiack, known more formally as Franz Georg Leopold Lessiack. So far, he has been baptized, raised, schooled, and confirmed in Hamburg, so now it’s time for him to get to work.
Among Leo’s things, I found his personnel badges from the Stadt-Theater in Hamburg, where, it seems, he was employed from 1907 through 1912, when he was 17 through 21 years old. What a fun place for a young man to work, especially a kid interested in music, as Leo assuredly was. I don’t know exactly what he did at the theater — Ticket taker? Usher? Stagehand? — but, I’m so glad that he saved his employee credentials.
Here’s a bit of history about the theater from the Staatsoper Hamburg website. It sounds like quite a colorful place, what with the semi-nekkid ladies and the onstage beatings.
“In 1827 a new opera house was inaugurated on the site of today’s State Opera, on Dammtorstrasse. The “Stadt-Theater”, with more than 2500 seats, was built to plans from Carl Friedrich Schinkel. Initially, as well as being home to operatic productions the theatre also staged performances by magicians and other exotic entertainers. But its progress towards a music-only theatre was relentless, as more and more big names became associated with it. In 1830, Niccolo Paganini (known as the “Devil’s own fiddler”) gave his first Hamburg concert, Richard Wagner directed his “Rienzi” in 1844, and the Stadt-Theatre production of “Nabucco” was the first Verdi opera ever to be staged in Germany. Famous singers such as Jenny Lind caused a stir – her enthusiastic fans even going to the lengths of organising her a torchlight procession round the Alster. Prima ballerinas such as Fanny Elssler and Danish star Lucile Grahn were very well received by the Hamburg public, as well as by the critics. “The costumes of Elssler, Grahn etc. are by no means immoral”, stated one critic. And a Hamburg newspaper poetically wrote of the frenetic applause received by Fanny Elssler at every performance “Fanny Elssler can always count on true emotional affection. The garlands one throws to her will always remain fresh, drenched in the dew of the joyous tears of the invigorated”.
In 1854 the Stadt-Theater encountered a crisis, losing a third of its public, and requiring state subsidy for the first time. Its saviour was Bernhard Pollini, the man who leased it in 1873. He renovated the building to reflect the opulence of the day, and also put in the first electric lights. In 1891 Gustav Mahler began a six-year reign as Principal Musical Director in Hamburg. His artistic endeavours frequently foundered on everyday opera house operations, but he earned wide acclaim nonetheless. His interpretations of Mozart were commendable, and he consolidated his reputation as one of the foremost conductors of Wagner. In 1910 Otto Klemperer directed an opera production at the Stadt-Theatre for the very first time. His “Lohengrin” was a triumph. Two years later, however, he was obliged to leave town in a hurry following a flirtation with singer Elisabeth Schumann, a married woman. The affair became a full-blown scandal when the singer’s angry husband struck Klemperer in the face with a riding whip before a performance, in front of a packed house.”
If you care to hear the warblings of the irresistible Ms. Schumann, check out Track 27 on this collection of recordings from the theater at Amazon.com. And, here is a later picture of her on a different album.
I found the following images in great-grandpa Leo’s collection, and although they were dated, they were not, alas, labeled. Could any of these theatrical-looking mystery youngsters be colleagues from the Stadt-Theater? We’ll never know for sure, but that’s where my imagination went.
Happy Friday, People!