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Der Graf von Luxemburg (1909) is one of three operettas that Lehár produced during a prolific three-month period. Of these three new works - Das Fürstenkind, Der Graf von Luxemburg and Zigeunerliebe - the latter two became international hits. Johann Strauss II had set the libretto of Der Graf von Luxemburg in 1897, under the title Die Göttin der Vernunft (The Goddess of Reason), but had done so reluctantly to fulfil a contract. The resulting work soon vanished from the stage. Lehár's own version was an immediate success, and by 1911 it had spread through theatres in Germany, and soon after created a frenzy in London and Paris. In Lehár's treatment, the dramatic clash between money and marriage has its musical parallel in the work's contrast of Parisian inflections and Slavic flavours, and the lilting score includes two immortal waltzes. A revised version of the operetta appeared in 1937.
SYNOPSIS: The Grand Duke may not marry Angela, with whom he is infatuated, unless she bears a title. He therefore arranges for the penniless spendthrift, Count René, to marry a lady whose face he is not to see, and to agree to a divorce in three months. For this the Count receives the sum of half a million francs. At the wedding ceremony, the Count and his mystery bride are separated by a screen - but later they meet and fall in love. Little knowing that they are already husband and wife, they believe their romance is hopeless. But a happy ending is worked out.
The Czarevitch English version by Adam Carstairs Book and lyrics by Bela Jenbach and Heinz Reichert.
2(2 dbls Picc.).2.2.2. / Tsax / 188.8.131.52. / Timp / Perc / Bnjo / Cel / Hp / Str + Stage Music The success of Lehár's Paganini (1925) prompted the composer to continue in the direction of historical drama.
Thus, Der Zarewitsch (1927) was loosely based on a true story - that of Alexei, son of Russian Tzar Peter the Great. The operetta was written as a vehicle for acclaimed Austrian tenor – and long-time collaborator – Richard Tauber, whose voice and stage presence almost ensured the success of Lehár's later works. Tauber once claimed that he and Lehár were brothers, "without the luxury of a blood relationship." Lehár found Berlin audiences more responsive to his Romantic voice and relocated to Berlin shortly before beginning Der Zarewitsch, which thus received its premiere there in 1927. Lehár establishes the local colour of the operetta's Russian milieu through orchestration, including balalaikas, and the use of the Neapolitan sixth chord and various church modes to create an "exotic" flavour.
SYNOPSIS: The son of Russian Tzar Peter the Great, Alexei, places himself in exile by running away with a male dancer. Eventually, the young prince discovers that boy is actually a girl, Sonja, in disguise. The two fall in love and escape to Naples. Eventually the Zarewitsch learns that his father has died and he knows his relationship cannot continue with Sonja as he is now the Tsar. The operetta ends with a bittersweet parting.
Frederica* English translation by Adrian Ross and Harry Pepper Book and lyrics by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner.
2(2 dbls Picc).2.2.2. / 184.108.40.206. / Timp / Perc / Cel / Org / Hp / Str Franz Lehár's Friederike (1928) is an example of so-called "biographical operetta", a genre popular in the early twentieth century, in which a historical figure was the protagonist in a bittersweet love affair. Lehár had previously explored the genre in Paganini (1925), and its success prompted the composer to continue in this direction of historical drama, producing first Der Zarewitsch (1926) and then, soon after, Friederike (1928).
Choosing the poet Goethe as the subject matter for an operetta was a daring move - intellectuals and cabaret fans thought the scenario ridiculous, while most of the public looked forward to the new production. The controversy helped to sell out the house when Friederike was premiered in October 1928.
SYNOPSIS: 1771 and 1779, Sesenheim and Strasbourg, France. Friederike tells the story of the young Johann Wolfgang Goethe, the celebrated German poet, and his doomed love for Friederike, daughter of the Vicar of Sesenheim. Anxious not to stand in the way of Goethe’s career, Friederike sacrifices her love for him.
Gipsy Love* English version by Adam Carstairs Book and lyrics by A. M. Willner and Robert Bodanzky.
2(2 dbls Picc).2.2+Tarogato.2. / 220.127.116.11. / Timp / Cim / Perc / Hp / Str Zigeunerliebe (1909) is one of three operettas that Lehár produced in a three-month period following his somewhat unsuccessful Der Mann mit den drei Frauen (1908). Zigeunerliebe, however, was a great success, with Lehár’s evocative score proving to be one of his most melodically inventive, harmonically daring, and instrumentally colourful, clearly betraying the composer’s Hungarian origin.
SYNOPSIS: In this latest version of the operetta, the setting is Victorian England. Antonio, a passionate young gipsy, loves Miranda - the high-born fiancée of a young nobleman. She elopes with Antonio, but her romantic dreams are soon shattered and reprisals are threatened against the whole Romany tribe. He sacrifices his hopes of happiness for the sake of his people - and Miranda.
Giuditta English version by Adam Carstairs Book and lyrics by Paul Knepler and Fritz Löhner.
3(2,3 dbl Picc). 2+Ca. 2+Bcl. 2+Cbsn. / 18.104.22.168. / Timp / Perc / 2 Mand / Bjo / Cel / Pno / Hp / Str + Stage band Scored for a large orchestra, Giuditta (1934) was Lehár's last and most ambitious work, written and designed on a larger scale than his previous operettas. It is the one that most approaches true opera, and the resemblances between the story and that of Bizet's Carmen - and its unhappy ending - heighten the resonance. As with many of Lehár’s later works, the lead tenor role (Octavio) was originally played by the celebrated Richard Tauber.
Often considered as one of his finest works, Giuditta was also a personal favourite of the composer’s, and features the unforgettable soprano aria Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß, which is still a popular part of the repertoire today.
SYNOPSIS: Giuditta abandons her husband Manuele, a carpenter, and runs off with Octavio, an army officer, to his villa in North Africa. Military obligations intervene, and Octavio is forced to leave Giuditta behind. She becomes a nightclub dancer, only to be discovered by Octavio, after he eventually deserts his unit. Giuditta is a success in her new profession, but - able only to watch helplessly - Octavio's self-esteem is destroyed, and he becomes a club pianist in Europe. During a chance encounter at a supper, Giuditta confronts Octavio, and begs him to return to her. He wants nothing to do with her anymore, and Giuditta leaves with a wealthy Duke.
The Land of Smiles* English versions available: Harry Graham / Jerry Hadley / Christopher Hassall Book and lyrics by Victor Léon, Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner.
2(2 dbls Picc).2.2.2. / 22.214.171.124. / Timp / Perc / Cel / Hp / Str + Stage band One of Lehar’s later operettas, The Land of Smiles (1929) was written largely around the performance of the renowned tenor Richard Tauber, for whom the composer would often write a signature aria. In The Land of Smiles, this aria is the unforgettable "You Are My Heart's Delight", and audiences attending the original London production would have heard the aria sung by Tauber himself. Set in Vienna and China, in 1912, the opera is also famous for its bittersweet ending.
SYNOPSIS: In Vienna, Lisa, a Countess, marries a Chinese prince and returns with him to his homeland - despite the warnings of her friends and family. In Beijing, however, she finds that she is unable to come to terms with his culture, and especially that he must take other wives. He assures her that it's just a formality, but unhappiness is inevitable, and she is locked in the palace. Her love changes to hatred. In Act III, Prince SouChong is left alone, while his beloved Lisa returns to her homeland. His sister, Princess Mi had also become attached to the Viennese official Gustav, and so the ending is doubly sad. But the prince respects the rule of his custom: always smile.
The Merry Widow* English versions available: Nigel Douglas / Sheldon Harnick / Christopher Hassall and Edmund Tracey / Christopher Hassall / Robert Johanson and Albert Evans / Jeremy Sams / John Wells Book and lyrics by Victor Léon, Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner.
2(2 dbls Picc).2.2.2. / 126.96.36.199. / Timp / Perc / Hp / Str + Stage band First performed in 1905, and often called "The Queen of Operettas", Die Lustige Witwe is the most celebrated and successful show of its kind ever written. The melodies and songs - "Vilja", "The Merry Widow Waltz", "You'll Find Me At Maxim's", to name but a few - are lovingly played and sung the whole world over, making it one of the surest box-office attractions of all time.
SYNOPSIS: Pontevedrian embassy, Paris, 1905. The Ambassador, Baron Zeta, is desperate for the wealthy widow Hanna Glavari to marry a Pontevedrian man, so that her fortune remains within the country. He attempts to match her and his handsome attaché, Danilo. It turns out that Danilo and Hanna had had a love affair in years past. Nevertheless, Danilo now refuses to love her because he doesn't want it to look like he just loves her money. In the end, after Hanna reveals that she will loose the money if she remarries, Danilo joyously asks for her hand in marriage. Quickly, she informs him that she will loose her money – because she will give it to her new husband.
Paganini* English translation by David Kram and Dennis Olsen Book and lyrics by Paul Knepler and Bela Jenbach.
2(2 dbls Picc.).2.2.2. / 188.8.131.52. / Timp / Perc / 2 Mand / Cel / Hp / Str + onstage Violin Solo Lehár's 28th completed work for the stage, Paganini (1925), took fourteen months to compose, and typifies the last phase of the "silver age" of operetta. It is also one of the many "biographical operettas" that were popular in the first part of the twentieth century, in which historical figures became the central figures in theatrically bittersweet love affairs. The success of Paganini encouraged the composer to continue in this direction of historical drama, and he went on to write both Der Zarewitsch (1926) and Friederike (1928) as a result. Paganini was the first of Lehár’s operettas to be tailored for the voice of Richard Tauber, the Austrian tenor who would become the composer's standard interpreter and help inspire six of his finest works. Unfortunately, Tauber was unavailable for the Vienna premiere of Paganini, on October 30, 1925, but he was able to participate in the Berlin premiere of January 30, 1926. The exceptionally strong score includes the delightful Girls Were Made to Love and Kiss.
SYNOPSIS: Italy, 1806. The story of the romance between legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini and Napoleon's sister, Princess Anna Elisa. Paganini temporarily takes quarters in a village, on the way to perform at the court in Lucca. He entrances the listeners with his practising, amongst whom is Princess Elisa. When they meet, the Princess falls in love with Paganini, but he is also being pusued by the singer Bella Giretti. Paganini does not discourage either woman, and the Princess - on discovering this - takes revenge by having Paganini arrested.
However, she falls for his charms once again, allowing him to escape. Across the border, Elisa meets Paganini one last time, and he swears to live solely for his music.
The Three Graces English version by Ben Travers Book and lyrics by Carlo Lombardo and A. M. Willner.
184.108.40.206. / 220.127.116.11. / Timp / Perc / Hp / Str The history of Lehár’s Der Libellentanz (1923) is rather curious. In the middle of the First World War, Lehár wrote one of his least successful operettas, Der Sterngucker (The Star Gazer - 1916). It was revised as La danza delle libellule (1922), and then became popular as Der Libellentanz the following year.
SYNOPSIS: M. Piper, who has bought a castle at Nancy, invites friends to perform in a play he has written. His two friends have flirtatious wives who, as ex-chorus girls, are good friends with Hélène, the young widow Clicquot. The Duke of Nancy arrives, under the guise of 'Mr. Nimrod', and is attracted to Hélène, but he is forced to leave by Toutou, the hotelier's wife, because he appears indifferent to her charms. Charles is placed under house arrest upon his return, and so is forced to reveal his true identity. Play rehearsals continue, but when Charles argues with Hélène, and is asked to leave again, he produces a court order, and reclaims the property. At the end of the final act, the two wives are reunited with their husbands, and - after much complication - Charles and Hélène finally find one another.
OFFENBACH, Jacques (1819-1880) La belle Hélène* English versions available: Geoffrey Dunn / Jeremy Sams Operetta in 3 acts. Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.
2 (2 dbl Picc).2.2.2. / 18.104.22.168. / Perc / Str First performed eight years after the hugely successful Orphée aux enfers, the second of Offenbach's satires on a well-known legend was La belle Hélène (1864). A ‘re-telling’ of the story of Helen of Troy’s abduction, the operetta was an instant success with both the public and the critics, making the composer very wealthy as a result.
SYNOPSIS: Sparta. Preparations for the celebration mourning Adonis are under way. Helen of Sparta confides to High Priest Calchas that she is obsessed with Paris, whom Venus has promised the most beautiful woman in the world - her! Venus writes to Calchas, commanding him to procure for Paris the love of Helen, as promised to him by Venus. Helen falls in love with Paris, disguised as a shepherd, at first sight. The kings of Greece, the two Ajaxes, the hot-headed Achilles and Spartan King Menelaus (Helen’s husband), are present for the "day of intelligence", but it is Paris who is triumphant in the competition to find the sharpest mind. Paris wants to be alone with Helen and Calchas arranges it for him, with a simulated thunderbolt and improvised prophecy ordering Menelaus to spend a month in the mountains of Crete. Helen tries to resist her attraction to Paris, but – thinking she is dreaming – kisses Paris, only to be discovered by Menelaus, who returns unexpectedly. He is seething with rage. Paris is sent to Troy, but threatens that he will return. Venus takes revenge by forcing an erotic frenzy on the people of Greece. Menelaus invites the High Priest of Venus from Cythera to make amends.