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There and Back Again: Zeitoper and the Transatlantic Search for a Uniquely American Opera in the 1920s

  • JOHN GABRIEL

Abstract

This article argues that in the late 1920s, the German genre of Zeitoper paradoxically became an essential component of the search for a new kind of uniquely American opera, resulting in a transatlantic cycle of mutual influence. This influence was possible because Germans and Americans alike saw the United States as the embodiment of modern life and technology. American producers and composers thus adapted German Zeitoper to bring it more in line with Americans’ self-image. I examine this dynamic by juxtaposing two German and two American Zeitopern, looking specifically at their engagement with jazz, film, race, and American popular musical theater: Paul Hindemith's Hin und zurück, Marc Blitzstein's Triple-Sec (inspired by Hindemith's opera), Ernst Krenek's Jonny spielt auf in the United States, and the unsuccessful effort to stage George Antheil's Transatlantic (modeled on Jonny and revised under the mentorship of Krenek) in New York. Both Germans’ image of America and Americans’ self-image were as much real as imagined, and although the similarities between them facilitated this cultural exchange, their differences also impeded it.

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There and Back Again: Zeitoper and the Transatlantic Search for a Uniquely American Opera in the 1920s

  • JOHN GABRIEL

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