Finding a Translation of Der Schauspieldirektor

28 Sep

Mozart’s “Der Schauspieldirektor” or “The Impresario” is a one act comedy about a theater company. Mozart only wrote four songs for the play, all of which appear towards the end, when two sopranos vie for the Prima Donna position in the company.

However, the play, while fairly short, is always omitted on the recordings (unlike most opera plays and libretti) and you only get Mozart’s four numbers with translations. This has always struck me as odd, as if only the music is important and hearing it in context is unnecessary, but never mind. I was certain for many years that I would have to get this work translated before I could read it and illustrate it for my project. Imagine my pleasure to find that someone had already translated it (very well, I might add) as part of their doctoral thesis at the University of Washington in 1976.

Albert McLane, while pursuing a doctorate of musical arts, translated the original German play in full. With the help of my local library, I got a copy of his thesis/translation, and after just now finishing it, I am both pleased (with the play) and alarmed (that every description or synopsis of this piece is highly mis-informed, or just plain incorrect.) During my years of research I have heard “Der Schauspieldirektor” described as being “full of topical humor”, “having little meaning to modern audiences” and being “far too long”. None of this is true. The “topical” humor appears in a few minor jokes, easy enough to understand through context clues — More so than practically anything in Gilbert & Sullivan, or heaven forbid, Shakespeare. There are quite a few puns that get lost in translation (particularly the character names), but, quite frankly, that comes with the territory of translating any text, and I can’t imagine this play loses more puns than any other.

McLane describes “Der Schauspieldirketor” very aptly by saying it is more of a “revue with music” than an opera.

Brief Synopsis

  • The first part of the play is an introduction to a theater director, Frank, getting a permit and deciding to set up a theater company. The second part introduces a group of actors (reluctant, flirty, tragic, romantic) doing scenes from three types of plays.
  • The first play from which a scene is featured is “The Aggrieved Husband”. It is a modern play, full of subtext, as two embittered lovers fight and flirt with one another. It is acted by the man who is funding the budding theater company, Eiler. He wants to get rid of his out-of-work girlfriend, M. Pfeil, because she keeps making him do scenes with her while they are at home.
  • The second play featured is “Bianca Capello”. It is a kind of grand tragedy, which requires both subtlety and heightened emotions, and depicts Bianca catching her husband cheating on her, and how she was just about to do the same to him. He is repentant and she forgives him. Bianca is under pressure from the new Duke to become his mistress. Bianca and her husband renew their vows of love and decide to run away together, to live off the land and escape persecution. At the very last moment, however, the husband hesitates, and we are left with an ambiguous ending of the scene. Will Bianca take his reluctance as a sign of  infidelity and flee alone, or will they go together at a later date? Her final words leave us wanting more. It is acted by a great tragedian, M. Krone,  and her protege, Herz.
  • The third scene is from “The Gallant Peasant Girl”, and is a comedic scene. A peasant girl spurns her lover because she has big plans for her future. She describes her plans in great (and increasingly outlandish) detail. The joke is that she has planned her future out to the most minute degree, including coincidences, amounts of money earned, and people she will meet and fall in love with, in order for her dreams to be fulfilled. (One gets the impression that the actress needs to actually be funny in order for the scene to work best.) It is acted by M. Vogelsang and Buff, two comedians.
  • Next, two operas singers appear, and Mozart’s music starts. The first, M. Herz (Herz’s wife) sings a somber and romantic aria with a big finish. She is immediately hired, when suddenly, another singer appears. Mme. Silberklang sings an upbeat, folksy song with a fantastic, challenging finish. She is immediately hired as well. Soon Mme. Silberklang and M. Herz are arguing over who will be Prima Donna of the company in a fantastically funny trio. In the song they argue, make-up, join together in blessed harmony (each throwing in asides about being the best) and then degenerate back into fighting. They are moderated by Herr Vogelsang(the comedy actresses husband). When everyone starts arguing about salaries, the Impresario, Frank, threatens not to start a theater company after all, which shuts everybody up (they need the work), and they all sing a happy song about artistic integrity, working together to create something good and then letting the audience decide who is best.

None of which was “full of topical jokes”, “hard to understand” or “too long”. I guess it is merely word of mouth that gives many of these pieces their reputations, and since so few have actually read the play, they just repeat what has been written by someone else.

However, it is very much a revue — with scenes and arias — and not an opera, and therefore the play has very little plot. It is a lot like the plays my friend Lizzie works on in Virginia City and Phillipsburg, Montana, in the summers. It was a revue written for highly skilled actors, however, and is probably enormously difficult to cast nowadays, which explains why it is very seldom performed.

I will now come up with some ideas and make some costumes for my own “Der Schauspieldirektor”!

This is the type of costume I want to make for one of the opera singers! This is a jacket and Gilet from (1790) from the Kyoto Fashion institute.


9 Responses to “Finding a Translation of Der Schauspieldirektor”

  1. Gabriel Preisser August 23, 2015 at 11:01 am #

    Hi there,
    Thank you for this article. Do you know how I might be able to enter into contact with Albert McClane to request a copy of his libretto??

    Many thanks,
    Gabriel Preisser

    • tysonvick August 23, 2015 at 3:22 pm #

      Hi Gabriel. If you are in America you can go about it the same way I did. I went to the public library and used Interlibrary loan to get the book from the University where it was published. I have no other contact information, I’m afraid. I hope this helps.

      • Gabriel Preisser August 24, 2015 at 8:51 pm #

        Many thanks. Easy enough!!!


  2. Marc Montserrat Drukker December 9, 2015 at 8:10 am #

    Hello, I am a Spanish Theatre Director. Congratulations for the article. I would be very grateful if you could please send me a copy of the translation. I will not use it, is just because I do not speak German and, as it is not translated to Spanish, I would like to get to know the script in detail before spending the money in a German-Spanish translation. Thank you very much. Best regards. Marc Montserrat Drukker:

  3. Marc Montserrat Drukker December 9, 2015 at 8:33 am #

    Dear Tyson, I am a Spanish Theatre Director. Congratulations for the article. I would be very grateful if you could please send me a copy of the translation. I will not use it, is just because I do not speak German and, as it is not translated to Spanish, I would like to get to know the script in detail before spending the money in a German-Spanish translation. Thank you very much. Best regards. Marc Montserrat Drukker:

    • tysonvick December 9, 2015 at 3:18 pm #

      Hi Marc! I borrowed my copy from the local library through interlibrary loan. Do you have that service at the libraries in Spain? I do not have a copy of the text myself. Here is some info to help your Search, Der Schauspieldirektor, Albert McLane, University of Washington in 1976.

      • Marc Montserrat Drukker December 14, 2015 at 11:36 am #

        Dear Tyson, thank you for your replay. I have already checked and we do not have this book. I would be so grateful if you could please borrow the book again and scan the text for me. I would obviously pay for the expenses. Or could I buy the book? Thank you so much. Best wishes, Marc

  4. B Dyer February 15, 2018 at 4:25 am #


    I am looking for this translation of der schauspieldirektor’s play. Just wondering if you might have a copy of it still??

    • tysonvick February 15, 2018 at 3:37 pm #

      Hi! I actually got it through the public library’s interlibrary loan system. I encourage you to visit your local library, because they can be very helpful.

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