In Emmerich Kálmán’s Gypsy Princess (1915), Sylva Varescu, a well-known cabaret singer, is in love with Prince Edwin von und zu Lippert-Weylersheim, who has had another match arranged by his disapproving family. In the end, the Prince's mother, Princess Karen, saves the day by revealing that she had also once been a cabaret singer.
Johann Strauss II’s Wiener Blut made use of melodies from his older and lesser-known works. The title is taken from one of Strauss’ most popular waltzes (Wiener Blut - op.354). Before today’s “jukebox musicals” like Mamma Mia, which are based on the back catalog of a pop group, Wiener Blut used a similar structure.
Franz Lehar’s The Land of Smiles (1929), one of his later operettas, was written largely around the performance of Richard Tauber. Composers would often write signature arias for Tauber, a renowned Austrian tenor, which, in The Land of Smiles, is “You Are My Heart’s Delight.” Audiences attending the original London production would have heard the aria sung by Tauber himself.
Sources: Text & Image: Coloured black and white photograph of Richard Lauber on a cigarette card (1932).
Johann Strauss II’s The Gypsy Baron (1885) is the first Viennese operetta set in Hungary. It was born out of Strauss’ visits to Budapest and his acquaintanceship with Hungarian writer Mór Jókai. The main characters are Hungarians and Gypsies and these influences are evident in the score, which combines Hungarian csárdás, Gypsy music, and Viennese waltz.
Source: Text & Image: A scene from a 2012 production of The Gypsy Baron.
Lehar’s The Merry Widow takes place in the early 20th century, both in Paris and in the expatriate community of Pontevedro, a fictional Balkan country reminiscent of Montenegro. The operetta opens with a ball in the Embassy of Pontevedro in Paris.
In Giuditta, Lehár bridges the gap between the genres of opera and operetta. It was his last operetta and a personal favourite. While operettas are known for their light, amusing character, the music of Giuditta is much darker and the story has an unhappy ending. It was also written and designed on a larger scale than his previous operettas. Although it was not fully accepted into the world of operetta by performers and audiences, it is generally viewed as Lehár finest work.
Source: Text & Image: Album cover from 2003 recording at Seefestspiele Mörbisch, the world’s largest operetta festival.
Franz Lehár’s Freiderike, set in 1770, tells the true story of the “Sesenheim Idyll,” a brief, but intense love affair between young poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and a seventeen-year-old Alsatian girl, Freiderike Brion. After less than a year together, von Goethe bids Freiderike a cold farewell to further his literary career. Some elements of the plot are historically accurate, while others were added by Lehár for theatrical purposes.
Sources: Text 1 & 2, Image: An oil painting of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, titled Goethe in the Roman Campagna by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein.
Otto Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor is based on the Shakespeare play of the same name. Nicolai was not the only composer to create an opera or operetta based on the play. Other adaptations include Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff (1893) and Vaughan Williams’s Sir John in Love (1929). The popularity of this play in the opera world can be attributed to the plot’s comedy and tragedy, disguise, and happy ending, which are all common elements of traditional operettas.
Sources: Text & Image: A watercolor painting by John Masey Wright of a scene from Shakespeare’s original play: Falstaff wooing Mistress Ford
Johann Strauss II’s A Night in Venice (1883) tells the story of one eventful evening in eighteenth-century Venice. Among the Viennese, Venice was a popular theme. 35 years earlier, Strauss’ father produced a gala of the same name. By 1895, a theme park replica of the city, “Venice in Vienna,” would be constructed in the middle of Vienna's largest public park.
Sources: Text & Image: Venice city landscape at night
The score for Johann Strauss II’s most celebrated and popular operetta, Die Fledermaus (1874), was composed over just 42 days in the summer of 1873. It was shown 58 times in the year it premiered alone and has become the most frequently produced operetta in the world, representing the “golden age” of the Austrian musical stage.
Sources: Text 1 & 2, & Image: Photo from a 2013 production of Die Fledermaus in Prague.