Carl Ebert

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Early career

Carl Ebert, theatrical producer and very popular opera director, entrepreneur/innovator, educator, and manager, was born on 20 February 1887 in Berlin, Germany. After engagements in Berlin and Frankfurt he became general director of the Darmstadt State Theater in 1927. In 1931 he was appointed General director and producer of the Berlin, Symphony Orchestra “where his productions came as a revelation to critics and the public.” [1] When the Nazis came to power Ebert left Germany 1933. He Produced opera in Florence, and Buenos Aires. With Fritz Busch Ebert founded the Glyndebourne Opera, “where together they established its reputation for the highest international standards.” [2]

Carl Ebert in Turkey [3]

According to the government’s official 2004 website posting titled The Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture—Opera in Turkey, the famous composer Paul Hindemith and theater director Karl Ebert were invited to Ankara from Germany during the 1935-36 academic year. Based on a report of their “joint studies, state conservatory classes began to be held at the Musiki Muallim Mektebi” in the 1935-36 academic term. In addition, all aspects of musical education also included theatre and opera instruction. [4]

Ebert, directed the State Conservatory theater school and opera studio for nine years. At the outset, Karl Ebert’s classes at the Ankara State Conservatory opera studio used standard western works with Turkish text. Such was the case with Mozart’s one-act opera Bastien et Bastienne that was staged by students and accompanied by the Presidential Symphony Orchestra. All indications are that the performance “attracted the attention of the press of the time.” Given the positive reviews, “librettos in Turkish were experimented with, and in 1940, for the first time in Turkey, the second act of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly was performed in Turkish by the opera studio.” In May of 1941, this was followed by the second act of Puccini’s Tosca. Again, the “performances were a great success, and this was reflected in the press. That success was the result of three years of hard work.” [5]

By a May 16 1940 act of Parliament, the State Conservatory’s classes initiated at the Musiki Muallim Mektebi were officially turned into the State Conservatory consisting of music, opera, ballet, and theatre. “As the years passed, Atatürk’s dream came true. The State Conservatory trained talented composers, musicians, soloists, and ballet dancers.” [6] Moreover, each year between 1937 and 1957, the Ankara State Conservatory sent out teams of musicologists into the countryside to compile traditional folk melodies. Some may consider this a sideshow for publicity, some would think it a “routine objective” while others would consider this preservation to be a major mission of a national conservatory of music in a developing country. “Some 10,000 melodies were compiled and many were recorded on wax records. They are now preserved in the archives of the Ankara State Conservatory at Hacettepe University.” [7]

Paul Hindemith found the State Conservatory in 1935, and Karl Ebert set up departments of opera and theatre in the Conservatory as well as founding a “practice theatre” where opera and drama students could appear in public performance. As indicated, the first opera performed was Mozart’s Bastien et Bastienne. The second acts only of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca were performed in 1940 and 1941 respectively, with Beethoven’s Fidelio and Madama Butterfly in full the following year. Subsequent opera productions included Smetana’s The Bartered Bride (1943), Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (1944), Puccini’s La Bohème (1945), Verdi’s Masked Ball (1947), and Bizet’s Carmen (1948). The Exhibition Hall in Ankara was converted into a theatre and opera building in 1947-48. Known as the Buyuk Tiyatro or Great Theatre, it opened on April 2 1948 with a performance of Ahmet Adnan Saygun’s opera, Kerem. The Ankara State Opera and Ballet commenced activities in 1949 following the enactment of a special law. Two of Atatürk’s great dreams were thus realized. Today, operas are produced regularly in five of Turkey’s cities. [8]

Thus Hindemith helped the Turkish government reorganize musical education, assisted in the creation of the Turkish State Conservatory in Ankara, and served as a founding member of its faculty.

Ebert founded and directed Ankara Academy’s theatrical department and between 1941 and 1947, founded and directed the Turkish State School of Opera and Drama, and directed the Turkish State Theater. Between 1936 and 1947, he had served as official adviser on theatrical affairs to the Turkish Ministry of Education. He spent eight years (1948-1956) in Los Angeles as professor and head of the opera department at UCLA, as director of the Guild Opera Company, and became a United States citizen before returning to Germany in 1956. [9] Another émigré, Dr. Ernst Praetorius was about to become Director of the Berlin Philharmonic when the Nazis expelled him because he was Jewish. Forced out of his position as Generalmusikdirektor (Music Director) of the Deutschen Nationaltheaters (German National Theater) in 1933, he drove taxis in Berlin for two years, after which he came to Ankara where he worked until his death in 1946.

<insert image> 1944 playbill from a Carl Ebert-directed opera.

<insert image> A Carl Ebert Production of Madame Butterfly, Ankara, 1942

Over the years, Carl Ebert trained local talent and staged performances of many operas written by the leading western composers and involving Turkish performers and helped a fellow emigre Austrian architect Clemens Holzmeister design the Atatürk Arts Complex in the Taksim Square of Istanbul where to this day the music is always good, and the ticket price always low, thanks to municipal subsidies.

Ebert’s legacy in Turkey.

On 1 December 2007 several Turkish NGOs including Istanbul’s Culture University and the Ministry of Culture produced a major performance of operatic arias and discussion to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Ebert’s birth. The production was organized by Emre Erdem who as a young Turkish “theatrical producer and very popular opera director, entrepreneur/innovator, educator, and manager” is following the trail blazed by Carl Ebert in Turkey.

Ebert brought opera to Los Angeles and rebuilt it in West Berlin

From 1948 to 1954 Ebert was professor and head of the opera school at the University of Southern California. From 1954 to 1961 he served as the general manager of the Municipal Opera in Berlin. This was during the Cold War period which included a culture war with the Soviets as well. Time magazine reported that “With a reputation as an artist, a builder and a fighter, Carl Ebert has performed thus far like the man who can carry Municipal safely through the melodic cold war with the Communists' State Opera. ‘I can't match them with quantity,’ he sa[id] intensely. ‘I don't have the East's propaganda money. But I will do it with quality. I can offer performances by a company that is good as a whole. It is a question of teamwork.’ [10]

Carl Ebert, died in Santa Monica, California on 14 May 1980.

Notes Viewed 30 November 2007 Viewed 30 November 2007

This article is based on Reisman, A. Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers. 2006).

<>. Viewed on October 10 2005.

Zeynep Özery, The Presidential Symphony Orchestra. <>. Viewed October 8 2005.

<>. Viewed on October 10 2005.

<>. Viewed on October 10 2005.

Opera in Turkey. <html://>. Viewed on October 10 2005.

Shaw S.J. (1993). Turkey and the Holocaust, Macmillan Press, London

“Operatic Cold War” Time Magazine, Monday, Jan. 24, 1955,8816,861173,00.html Viewed 1 December 2007.

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