University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Offenbach: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein

07/08/2018 1:00 pm
07/08/2018 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

This French opéra bouffe touched off a craze for operetta all over the Western world. Offenbach wrote it to coincide with the splendid Paris Exhibition of 1867. The cream of Europe's aristocracy and intelligentsia turned up at Offenbach's own Variétés theater to see the most chic musical entertainment in town. Even the emperor Napoleon III had a box reserved for him at the Variétés.

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein was revived again and again throughout Europe. The Viennese in particular were crazy about it. Today it's Die Fledermaus that gets all the glory. That classic of Viennese operetta, however, is derived from a French play by Meilhac and Halévy, the team who wrote the libretti for all the best of Offenbach's lyric stageworks. The recordings of this one, which I presented on Sundays in July of 1985 and 2009, both featured some wonderful singers, but they were abridgments or downright corruptions of Offenbach's original score. All of Offenbach's scores require careful reconstruction.

On this July Sunday you get to hear Gérolstein pretty much as Offenbach intended it to be performed in 1867 with the restored scene of the conspiracy, the knife-grinder's song, and the Grand Duchess's meditation. The orchestral scoring takes advantage of the larger group of musicians employed in those productions staged in Vienna. La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein was revived yet again for staging at the Festival delle Valle d'Itria Martina Franca in July of 1996. Emmanuel Villaume conducts the Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia and the Bratislava Chamber Choir. This production stars soprano Lucia Valentini-Terrani as the Duchess. Gérolstein is a sendup of the military, with all the associated bombast and nutty disciplined posturing. The role of General Boum is thought to be a caricature of Otto, Prinz von Bismarck, the Prussian "Iron Chancellor", wearing that characteristic Prussian spiked helmet.