Der Zar lässt sich photographieren

Der Zar lässt sich photographieren (The Tsar Has his Photograph Taken') is an opera buffa in one act by Kurt Weill, op. 21. The German libretto was written by Georg Kaiser, and Weill composed the music in 1927. It is a Zeitoper, a genre of music theatre which used contemporary settings and characters, satiric plots which often include technology and machinery. Musically the Zeitoper genre tends to be eclectic and borrow from Jazz. The genre has practically disappeared from the world's opera houses. Historically the Zeitoper came to an abrupt end with the Nazi period,[1] and after the war the cultural institutions were perhaps hesitant to return to the lighter, often decadent and comic operas written before the holocaust changed the artistic perspective. This conjecture is supported by the statistical fact that of all of Weill's, Schönberg's, Hindemith's and Krenek's works - it is these very shorter, satirical Zeitoper works that are no longer performed.[2]

Der Zar lässt sich photographieren
Opera buffa by Kurt Weill
The composer in 1932
TranslationThe Tsar Has his Photograph Taken
LibrettistGeorg Kaiser
18 February 1928 (1928-02-18)
Neues Theater, Leipzig

Performance history

The opera was first performed at the Neues Theater in Leipzig on 18 February 1928. Weill had intended it to be a companion piece for Der Protagonist, though it was staged at its premiere with Niccola Spinelli's A basso porto (1894). Der Zar lässt sich photographieren and Der Protagonist were then performed together at Altenburg on 25 March of the same year. Recent performances of the work include the Guildhall in London (Producers Stephen Medcalf and Martin Lloyd-Evans, Conductor Clive Timms, 1997) and the Stockholm Royal Opera, 2000 (Conductors Dmitri Slobodeniouk and David Searle, Producer Knut Hendriksen).

The first American performance took place on 27 October 1949, at the Juilliard School, New York. The first professional performance in America was at The Santa Fe Opera in August 1993, with George Manahan conducting. The first performance in the United Kingdom was at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London on 12 March 1986.

A new translation by Leo Doulton, with research by Michael Berkowitz, professor of Jewish history at UCL, is reported to cast new light on the reasons for the work's suppression by Nazi Germany and to set the opera in its proper context. The Tsar Wants His Photograph Taken, directed by Doulton, was scheduled for a single performance on 4 May 2019, also at the Bloomsbury Theatre.[3][4] According to Berkowitz the Nazis suppressed the opera because "The plot deliberately revolves around what a European audience would have assumed were a set of really stock Jewish characters, not only a pioneering woman photographer, who were nearly all Jewish then, but also a group of anarchist terrorists."


Role Voice type Premiere Cast,
18 February 1928
(Conductor: Gustav Brecher)
The Tsar baritone Theodor Horand
Angèle soprano Ilse Koegel
The false Angèle soprano Maria Janowska
The assistant tenor
The boy contralto
The leader of the gang mezzo-soprano or tenor
The false assistant tenor
The false boy contralto
The equerry bass


Place: a photographic studio in Paris
Time: 1914

An offstage male chorus chants the opera's title (and comments on the action from time to time). Angèle (the proprietress) and her male assistants, one of them a boy, have little work to do, but a telephone-call brings news that the Tsar wishes to have his photograph taken. A large box-camera is set up, but, before the Tsar arrives, four members of a gang of revolutionaries burst in. They bind and gag Angèle and her staff. Three of the gang dress up as Angèle, her assistant and the boy, and the leader of the gang, proclaiming that the revolution is imminent, conceals a gun in the camera. It will fire at the Tsar when the bulb used for taking the photograph is squeezed. The captives are put in another room, the leader hides, and the Tsar is announced.

The Tsar is dressed in a summer suit and accompanied only by an equerry. He wants an informal portrait rather than an official one. He is attracted by the False Angèle and asks to be left alone with her. She is keen to take the photograph (i.e. to "shoot" him), but he flirts with her and offers to take her photograph first. She manages to avoid being accidentally shot by the Tsar, and is finally about to press the bulb to shoot him when the equerry re-appears to report that the police have followed some assassins to the studio. The false Angèle, realising that the game is up, puts on a seductive gramophone record (the "Tango Angèle") and asks the Tsar to avert his eyes while she undresses. She and the rest of the gang escape through the window just before the police arrive with the real Angèle and her assistants, who had previously themselves escaped and raised the alarm. The gun is removed from the camera, and the Tsar, though dismayed that the real Angèle is not as attractive as the false one, finally, as the chorus again says, "has his photograph taken".


The opera's music is continuous, rather than arranged in "numbers". There are big orchestral climaxes at dramatic moments but also some popular-music forms, such as the foxtrot which accompanies the entrance of the Tsar. The "Tango Angèle" was specially recorded for the first performance, and is one of the earliest examples of pre-recorded music being used on stage in a dramatic work.[5] It was Weill's first best-selling recording.




  1. Michael Haas, Forbidden Music: The Jewish Composers Banned by the Nazis, Yale University Press, 2013
  2. Cook, Susan, p. ?
  3. Vanessa Thorpe (27 April 2019). "Kurt Weill opera silenced by Nazis to be heard again after 80 years". The Observer.
  4. "Performance Lab: The Tsar Wants His Photograph Taken". Bloomsbury Theatre. April 2019. Archived from the original on 28 April 2019. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
  5. Chris Macklin, Programme note for performances of the opera at the University of York, 17–18 March 2007.



  • Cook, Susan (1988), Opera for a New Republic: the Zeitopern of Krenek, Weill and Hindemith UMI Research Press
  • Heinz Guen (1997), Von der Zeitoper zur Broadway Opera: Kurt Weill und die Idee des musikalischen Theaters (Sonus) Argus
  • Sadie, Stanley (ed.) (1998), "Zeitoper" in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, London. p. 1221. ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 782 pages, ISBN 0-19-869164-5

Der Zar lässt sich fotographieren:

  • Albright, Daniel (1999), Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts, University Of Chicago Press.
  • Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education, No. 100 (Spring, 1989), pp. 99–100
  • Goehr, Lydia, "Hardboiled Disillusionment: Mahagonny as the Last Culinary Opera", Cultural Critique, University of Minnesota, No. 68 (Winter, 2008), p. 19
  • Hinton, Stephen (1992), "Der Zar lässt sich photographieren", The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, ed. Stanley Sadie (London) ISBN 0-333-73432-7
  • Hinton, Stephen (2012), Weill's Musical Theater: Stages of Reform, University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-27177-7
  • Milnes, Rodney (2001), in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
  • Mordden, Than (2012), Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-67657-5
  • Warrack, John and West, Ewan (1992), The Oxford Dictionary of Opera New York: OUP. ISBN 0-19-869164-5

Georg Kaiser:

  • Banham, Martin (1995), Cambridge Guide to Theatre, Cambridge University Press; 2 edition.

See entry: Georg Kaiser

  • German Expressionist Plays: Gottfried Benn, Georg Kaiser, Ernst Toller, and Others, Bloomsbury, 1997
  • Kaiser, Georg (1975) Von morgens bis mitternachts (Universal-Bibliothek Nr. 8131: Erlauterungen und Dokumente) Reclam
  • Valk, Gesa M. (September 1, 2011), Georg Kaiser, Mitteldeutscher Verlag
  • Willeke, Audrone B. (1995), Georg Kaiser and the Critics: A Profile of Expressionism's Leading Playwright (Literary Criticism in Perspective), Camden House
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