Voices From The Kaffeehaus

Opera Legend Hans Holecek At Haus Hoffmannstahl

On The Town | Matthias Wurz | June 2007

Venue organizers are always forced into improvisation when the artist is late, as was the case of Heinz Holecek. The clock had turned 7.30 pm on May 4 at the Haus Hofmannsthal, and he was still absent. The packed house sat waiting for one of Vienna’s most beloved opera singers and chameur.

The management of the  Haus Hofmannsthal, however, was blessed with a forgiving audience of Prominenten, mostly friends and colleagues of Holecek. And among those that had come to listen to the humorous texts, written in Viennese coffee houses from the turn of the century to about 1938, was the actor and writer Gerhard Tötschinger. He kindly bridged the suspense by telling amusing Schnurren, a Viennese expression for theatrical anecdotes of own experiences.

When he began the sentence, "And at that exact moment when Heinz Holecek crosses this threshold…" the smiling Publikumsliebling Heinz Holecek indeed appeared in the doorway, holding a pile of books under his arms. A warm welcome of heartfelt applause and cheering greeted the long-awaited latecomer. Had it all been planned? We were never sure.

The genre of Kaffeehausliteratur, particularly characteristic to Vienna, has "some of the deepest and most beautiful writings that one can only dream of," said Holecek at the beginning, and the evening offered a diverse and colorful selection. Some of the writings of Peter Altenberg’s (1959 – 1919), read before the interval, were as always very engaging, drawing a nostalgic picture of the Habsburg Empire.

The writings of Anton Kuh (1890 – 1941) have a sarcastic undertone, read charmingly and eloquently by Holecek which brought the characters to life; particularly the text Der Anschluss, which draws on the historical events when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938.

The scene described is set at a Heuriger and involves an elderly, simple Austrian couple and a German visitor filled with the zeal of the convert to Hitler’s political ideas and racial policies. The German holds forth, launching into a forceful and direct political spiel in an attempt to convert them – an attempt that fails against the laid-back Austrian mentality, unimpressed and mildly resentful.

After the interval, Holecek brought out some of the classics of the genre with the colorful and highly entertaining Ungarische Schöpfungsgeschichte (Hungarian History of Creation) by Peter Hammerschlag (1902 – 1942) complemented by selections from the writings of Alexander Roda Roda (1872 – 1945) and concluding with deeply philosophical view into the Austrian soul from Egon Friedell’s (1878 – 1938) Die Österreichische Seele.

The baritone Heinz Holecek (b.1938) was for many years a member of the Wiener Staatsoper and Volksoper ensembles, making his debut in both houses in the role of Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. In his operatic repertoire he covered particularly the buffo-baritone roles in Mozart and Italian operas, as well as in operettas. In recent years, Holecek has also made a successful name as an actor and comedian for stage and television.

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