Overture and Finale To Erwin Dressel’s Opera “Armer Columbus”
Collected Works, Vol. 23, Muzyka Publishers, Moscow.
Mikhailovsky Theatre, Inv. No. 1375 (Overture); Central Music Library of the Mariinsky Theatre, Inv. No. 20164, 20165 (Final)
"... it was decided to add to the play a special epilogue entitled "What does contemporary America represent?"."
Overture and Finale
To Erwin Dressel’s Opera “Armer Columbus”
The Overture (Entr’acte) and Finale to Erwin Dressel’s opera Armer Columbus (Poor Columbus), Op. 23 (originally Op. 19), was written at the beginning of 1929 at the request of MALEGOT’s music director Samuel Samosud for the work’s staging.
German composer Erwin Dressel (1909-1972) drew attention to himself early as a theatrical composer. He enjoyed his first big success in 1923, when the Berlin City Theatre staged Shakespeare’s comedy Much Ado About Nothing based on his music. The premiere of the opera Armer Columbus based on Arthur Zweiniger’s libretto, which presented the discovery of America in a satirical tone, was held in 1928 in Kassel when the author was only 18 years old.
Boris Asafyev, who was a consultant for the Leningrad academic opera theatres for contemporary repertoire at that time, recommended to stage the Armer Columbus in Leningrad. In tune with the political situation, the MALEGOT directors decided “to modernise” the content of Columbus by adding an epilogue entitled ‘What is Contemporary America’. For this purpose, Shostakovich was contracted to write two orchestral fragments—the overture and the finale, the performance of which was supposed to coincide with the showing of the propagandistic animated film.
In the final version, the performance opened with the overture for Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, while the Overture written by Shostakovich was performed as the entr’acte before the sixth scene (which is why this piece is sometimes referred to as “Entr’acte”). Shostakovich provided the finale, meant to accompany the anti-American satirical animated film, only 8 March 1929, that is, on the eve of the premiere, which the theatre also found fault with. Be that as it may, Columbus was shown with precisely this finale and not the original ending written by Dressel, which the producers “found rather vapid”.
Despite the improvements made and the strong performers, the opera was performed only thirteen times.
In the 1970s, Gennady Rozhdestvensky found the author’s manuscript of the Overture, which was thought to be lost, in the archive of MALEGOT (now Mikhailovsky Theatre), and on 3 February 1977 performed it for the first time in Tallinn as a separate concert piece. He also performed both pieces abroad for the first time on 4 April 1979 in London. The concert was broadcast from Royal Festival Hall on BBC.
The score of the Overture and Finale to Erwin Dressel’s opera Armer Columbus was published in Dmitri
Shostakovich’s Collected Works in 1986 (Vol. 23, Muzyka Publishers, Moscow).
The piano arrangement of the Overture has never been published.