The Woman Behind Umbrella and Fan: Elisabeth

Monika Brzobohaty

Empress Elisabeth of Austria, born 1837, assassinated 1898, known worldwide as sweet young "Sisi", played in several movies by Romy Schneider. In this musical Michael Kunze (book/lyrics) and Sylvester Levay try to clear up the Sisi myth. Who was the woman who hid herself behind umbrella and veil from her 40th year on because her face no longer suited the beauty ideal?

The Empress's poems, published in 1984, are the main source for today's modern picture of Elisabeth. A rebel of her time, a convinced spiritualist and poet. She withdrew from her marriage and family life, as well as from the crown's social duties. She despised politics, and her only goal was to live on her own. Her self-confidence, her intelligence and scepticism, which identify her as a modern woman, stood in contrast to her longing for death, her hypersensitivity and disdain for humanity.

In the empire of the dead and dreamers, Luigi Lucheni, Elisabeth's murderer, is questioned by an invisible judge 100 years after the deed and so becomes the narrator of the show.

He justifies himself with the statement that he did Elisabeth a favour, and he calls her dead contemporaries as witnesses. He raises the decayed world of the Habsburg empire, and a fascinating love story between Elisabeth and Death begins.

Meanwhile, der Tod, played by Uwe Kröger, advanced to become the audience's favourite.

Uwe, how do you feel in your part as der Tod and what is your understanding of death?

For me, this part is a gift, because it's decidedly attractive; who could resist such a persistent lover, in the end? Death and life belong together for me, I see that very realistically. The more I thought about this theme, the more I calmed down. On the one hand, our society idealises and mystifies death; on the other, people don't talk about it.

Do you believe in life after death?

Yes, I do believe in life after death, but I think it's important to live here and now.

What part does an artist play in our society, for you?

For me it's a good way to bring people joy, to entertain them. As artists have the possibility of reaching many people, I think it is right to speak out in public about important things. But I turn down pseudo-political engagements or those which are only social criticism.

You were lead singer for a rock band, studied musical theatre in Berlin, and appeared, among others, in Rocky Horror Show, Jesus Christ Superstar, and Les Misérables. But you also worked in youth psychiatry, as a therapist.

I did my community service at an institute for youth psychiatry and remedial education, and realised that I relate well to children. Children and youths have to cope with a "freedom" in which they lose orientation. Many of them lack education of the heart, they are left alone and find their hold in idols, which justifiably frightens us.

In his love for Elisabeth, der Tod is very obstinate; how about you and love?

Love--that's butterflies in your stomach, letting everything else become unimportant, up to total commitment and to a thing or person.Do you know the saying "it's five minutes to twelve" [ie, "time's running out"]?

Yes, and for the world's situation, it's very critical, but we may not give up trying to do something for life, and we have to start with ourselves.

Thanks for the interview, and toi, toi, toi!

To the main pageTo the press page