24 March 2005

Meine Ohren Bluten

Pity those poor Austrian bastards. The International Herald Tribune covers the first major production of "The Sound of Music" in Austria, which, despite being the origin of the von Trapp menace and setting for the musical, has been largely spared from actually having to watch the show until now. Even the movie wasn't released there.

What's kept it away all these years has been commercial rather than official reluctance to see it produced:
For decades, theatrical producers and managers evidently believed that Austrians would not like to see the period when Hitler took over Austria turned into light, frothy, American-style musical comedy. "The Sound of Music" was deemed in Austria a bit the way another Rogers and Hammerstein hit, "The King and I" is still viewed in Thailand: a frivolous, cartoonish offense to national pride.

There's something to that, apparently. "Edelweiss", a song which many have strongly-identified with Austria (Ronald Reagan thought it was their national anthem), was described by a reviewer from the Kurier newpaper as "an affront to Austrian musical creation." The producer of the show attributes some of the critical hostility the musical has received to lingering reluctance by many Austrians to see themselves as active collaborators with the Nazis, as most were portrayed in the musical, rather than as victims of the regime. Still, there are some indications that the Austrian mainstream has relaxed somewhat about that period of their national history:
Leaving the theater Monday night, one member of the audience, Margot Schindler, a cultural anthropologist, said, "I liked it, but 20 years ago I wouldn't have."

Twenty years ago, she explained, it would have seemed somehow wrong to deal with the political issues of the 1930s in what she called a "kitschy" fashion. Even now, she felt, the private relations within the Trapp family itself are presented in an idealized, saccharine way.

"Reality wasn't like that," she said, "but the political stuff is O.K."
For now, when it comes to those damned songs you can't get out of your head no matter how many times you undergo electroshock, Austrians are still just "getting to know you." According to the article, "At the end of the show . . . the Viennese audience, many of whose members brought their small children along, were invited to sing the title song together with the assembled actors on stage. It was clear from the response that pretty much none of them knew it." Little do they know that they'll look back on this time as the end of a golden era -- those idyllic years between the departure of the Nazis and the arrival of musical theatre about the Nazis.

We'll give them a bit to adjust and then send them "Hogan's Heroes".

No comments: