How to Solve a Problem like Magda Goebbels

“Recognize the problem, and you are halfway on the road to its, uh, its solution.”  -Harold and Maude

Problem 1: the topic

When I tell people that I’m working on a film about Magda Goebbels, who was considered the “First Lady of Nazi Germany” and who killed her six children in the bunkers at the close of WWII, I’ve gotten several visceral responses:

  • -some give stern warnings not to cast Magda in a positive light
  • -others ask “who?” and then, “how come I’ve never heard of her?”
  • -comparisons are made to Medea, the Ancient Greek protagonist who kills her children
  • -”are you joking? She had six children all starting with the letter ‘H’?”

In other words, I found I had a huge problem on my hands, and one that I couldn’t let go of.  Magda is at once an infamous Nazi villain, an obscure historical footnote, Medea, an over-the-top drama queen, and an Ayn Rand lookalike.  I felt something needed to be done.

Magda wasn’t born an anti-Semite: her first love was a prominent Zionist; her stepfather was Jewish.  How did she end up as the First Lady of Nazi Germany, and one who knew about the camps?  Why would she kill her children when they could have escaped and made a new life elsewhere?  How could I tell this story fully and honestly?  Magda seemed more problematic than a Shakespearean play.

She wanted to make her mark. She wanted a better life.
She loved him. Would do anything for him.
She weighed the options. Made compromises.

(from Magda G; words by Amy Schrader)

Problem 2: the Money

Last fall Beth Morrison Projects produced my piece Kocho at the Galapagos Art Space in New York.  The space offered amazing acoustics, a theatrical sensibility, and a venue that welcomed a piece such as mine.  My pieces – which mix music, theater, movement, and visuals – are not a lot of things.  They aren’t traditional opera, they aren’t musicals, they aren’t dance, they aren’t theater.  They aren’t performance art.  They need beautiful acoustics and also an advanced lighting plot.  They don’t set out to “alienate” audiences a-la-Brecht, but instead immerse the audience with a sense of ritual.

It takes a lot of money to pull off such a show and in a way that meets the needs of the piece.  And because live production is so ephemeral, I began to wonder if there was a more cost-effective way to present my pieces, one that did them justice but at the same time reached out to a greater audience.

This problem began to grow exponentially as I wrote music for Magda, which included five lead characters, 6 chorus, an instrumental ensemble of 6, dancers, the Klavihorn, as well as a documentary about Magda Goebbels.

 Magda (sung): δύστανος ἐγὼ μελέα τε πόνων,
ἰώ μοί μοι, πω ς ἂν ὀλοίμαν

I can’t stand this pain, this misery-
What do I do? I wish I could die!

(Libretto is partially excerpted from Euripides’ Medea)

Next up:  A Solution to Magda with New Problems: a Feature Film

And join us for a reading of the film script set to music on June 3!