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Clash of the classes: Colonel Pickering accidentally bumps into the flower girl Eliza Doolittle, who instantly launches into a wild rant. Just then, they are joined by the phonetics professor Henry Higgins. He claims that not only can speech determine a person’s class distinction, it even has the power to change it. Were he to teach the flower girl to speak »properly«, she could soon run her own shop as a respectable lady. Eliza – on top of it all punished with a chronic drunkard for a father – sees her chance to escape her gloomy existence and seeks out Higgins in order to take lessons from him. Colonel Pickering, who shares a burning passion for linguistics with Higgins, proposes a bet to the professor. He is convinced that the phonetician will never succeed in turning Eliza into a lady. Higgins accepts the bet, and Eliza, now his pupil, moves in with the confirmed bachelor and his housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce. And so begins an arduous learning period for the girl. But a first taste of success inspires! Eliza is to be subjected to an initial test run among high society at the races in Ascot in the presence of Henry’s mother, Mrs. Higgins. But her first foray turns into a debacle. Nevertheless, Eliza finds a fervent admirer in the posh Freddy Eynsford-Hill.
After more weeks of intense linguistic training, the time arrives to settle the bet: Pickering and Higgins present Eliza at the annual Embassy Ball. The evening ends in triumph, grand society is enchanted by the charming young lady. Even the Hungarian linguist, Professor Karpathy, a former pupil of Higgins and an expert in exposing imposters, is convinced: Anyone who speaks a language as pure as Eliza’s must be a princess! Back home, the men celebrate their success. They forget that this was not their achievement alone. After a fight, Eliza leaves Higgins’ house in a rage but soon realises that as a lady she cannot return to her old life. In the end, she pours out her heart to Mrs. Higgins. That’s where Henry finds Eliza and to his own bafflement realises how much he misses her after all. But Eliza has made her own plans. It seems that it is too late for her to return …
Max Hopp, most recently celebrated in the role of Tevje the milkman, is also a tour de force as the eccentric professor of phonetics, Henry Higgins. By his side is musical star Katharine Mehrling, who won the »Golden Curtain« Berlin audience award for her portrayal of the brash and stalwart Eliza Doolittle in Andreas Homoki’s production.
Professor Henry Higgins, a leading expert in phonetics and a passionate defender of proper elocution, makes a bet with the similarly-minded Colonel Pickering: using the young flower girl Eliza Doolittle, who can only express herself in the coarse dialect of the lower classes, Higgins wishes to prove that the brilliant polish which proper elocution provides opens the doors to the highest echelons of society. Yet what Higgins forgets on his path to success is that Eliza is no guinea pig, but a person – with and without an accent!
In his acerbic criticism of the rigid class structures in 19th-century England, the author of the literary template for My Fair Lady, George Bernard Shaw, drew on the ancient myth of the sculptor Pygmalion, who falls in love with an idealised woman he has carved out of stone. Director Andreas Homoki, the artistic director of the Zurich Opera House, has found grand poetic images for the worlds which separate someone like Eliza Doolittle from the »better society« of someone like Professor Higgins, and in his production fully emphasises the musical and dramatic qualities of this »perfect musical«. The fact that an elocution exercise set to music – »The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain« – remains a perennial favourite to this day says everything you need to know about the enchanting power of Frederick Loewe's immortalised melodies.
Based on George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and the film by Gabriel Pascal
Book and song texts by Alan Jay Lerner
German version by Robert Gilbert