Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Von Trapp Fact and Fiction, This Time at Chaffey High School

Chaffey High School will be presenting a production of "The Sound of Music." This play (and the more-famous movie) is a semi-accurate telling of the story of the singing von Trapp family. Some of the differences between the musical and the real story are documented in other places on the web.

"The Sound of Music" ends with the von Trapp family leaving Austria, but does not tell about their subsequent emigration to the United States. Chaffey High School provides these helpful details:

[T]he show will be produced by Billman/Masterson productions and a cast of 80 at the majestic Gardiner W Spring Auditorium on the campus of Chaffey High School.

The true story of Maria, Captain von Trapp and their seven children will be rightly told in GWS as it was here that the family made their first American concert appearance on February 5, 1942.

A wonderful coincidence, but unfortunately the National Archives can't confirm the historic nature of the Chaffey appearance:

The family, along with their musical conductor, Rev. Franz Wasner, and secretary, Martha Zochbauer, left Austria for Italy in June 1938. They entered the United States at New York in the fall of 1938 under six month visitors' visas and almost immediately began a concert tour in Pennsylvania. Son Johannes was born in January 1939 in Philadelphia.

I have not found an accurate listing of von Trapp concert appearances, but mathematics seems to suggest that a concert in Pennsylvania in late 1938 would have occurred well before any appearance in California in February 1942.

Incidentally, the National Archives itself documents the differences between the real and fictionalized von Trapp family. Here are some of them:

Maria came to the von Trapp family in 1926 as a tutor for one of the children, Maria, who was recovering from scarlet fever, not as governess to all the children.

Maria and Georg married in 1927, 11 years before the family left Austria, not right before the Nazi takeover of Austria.

Maria did not marry Georg von Trapp because she was in love with him. As she said in her autobiography Maria, she fell in love with the children at first sight, not their father. When he asked her to marry him, she was not sure if she should abandon her religious calling but was advised by the nuns to do God's will and marry Georg. "I really and truly was not in love. I liked him but didn't love him. However, I loved the children, so in a way I really married the children. . . . [B]y and by I learned to love him more than I have ever loved before or after."

There were 10, not 7 von Trapp children.

The names, ages, and sexes of the children were changed.

The family was musically inclined before Maria arrived, but she did teach them to sing madrigals.

Georg, far from being the detached, cold-blooded patriarch of the family who disapproved of music, as portrayed in the first half of The Sound of Music, was actually a gentle, warmhearted parent who enjoyed musical activities with his family. While this change in his character might have made for a better story in emphasizing Maria's healing effect on the von Trapps, it distressed his family greatly.

The family did not secretly escape over the Alps to freedom in Switzerland, carrying their suitcases and musical instruments. As daughter Maria said in a 2003 interview printed in Opera News, "We did tell people that we were going to America to sing. And we did not climb over mountains with all our heavy suitcases and instruments. We left by train, pretending nothing."

The inaccuracy that hurt the family the most was the portrayal of Georg the father, but I would assume that they accepted this as part of God's will. But I don't know if Georg or Maria could have conceived of a day in which their establishment, the Trapp Family Lodge, would eventually have Twitter and Facebook accounts. I saw the following on the latter:

This April, the hills are alive with the sounds Join us for the Trapp Lodge brewery grand opening celebration Apr 16-18

Hey, the von Trapps were Austrian Catholics. They weren't Methodists or anything like that. If you want to say "So long, farewell" and head to the brewery, read this.

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