Maria Dronke 1904-1987, stage actress, drama producer and teacher, made a significant contribution to the theatre in New Zealand.
Minnie Kronfeld, who was to become well known in New Zealand theatrical circles as Maria Dronke, was born on 17 July 1904 in Berlin, Germany. She was the youngest child and only daughter of Salomon Kronfeld, a barrister, and his wife, Laura Liebmann. The family was Jewish although not orthodox in observance. Minnie was educated at the Dorotheen Lyceum in Berlin where she was the top student, then at the Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität where she studied philosophy and modern literature. She also studied, and for a period taught, elocution and voice production.
In the 1920s she performed many classical roles in Germany’s major theatres, including many of Shakespeare’s great female roles, Gretchen and Helen in Goethe's Faust, Minna in Lessing's Minna von Barnhelm, and Elisabeth in Schiller's Don Carlos. She also gave performances in Vienna, The Hague and Paris. When the poet Rainer Maria Rilke died in 1926, Kronfeld was invited to read his work at the memorial celebrations in Vienna. As her career became established she took Maria Korten as her stage name.
Converting to Catholicism in 1928, she married John (Adolf) Dronke, a judge, and they had two children. Changing her religion did not protect her against the Nazis and after a few months in England the family, including her childhood governess Frieda Burckhardt who became nanny to Maria’s own children, were able to travel to New Zealand, arriving in Wellington in August 1939.
Maria Dronke made a significant contribution to the theatre in New Zealand. She directed about 25 productions, including works by Ibsen, Shaw, Shakespeare, and T S Eliot. She was particularly taken by Eliot and the performance of Murder in the Cathedral in Wellington’s Old St Pauls Cathedral is probably her masterpiece. She not only helped improve the standard of acting and the production of amateur theatrical societies but also enlivened the cultural and social climate of the country. Along with other refugees from central Europe, such as Karl Wolfskehl, she brought with her something of the world of Heine, Büchner, Toller and Brecht. Her soirées were 'warm and intimate sharings of ideas and talents' and led many to a deeper appreciation of their European cultural heritage.
Maria died in Lower Hutt on 28 August 1987.
Further reference/links: http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4d19/dronke-minnie-maria
Image header above: Alexander Turnbull Library Reference: PAColl-5872-25-01 Photograph Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa.