Friday, October 17, 2014

Wiener Operette

No. 169 of the ongoing ITYWLTMT series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

pcast169- Playlist


Operetta is a genre of light opera, light in terms both of music and subject matter. It is also closely related, in English-language works, to forms of musical theatre. Camille Saint-Saëns once described operetta in these terms: " [operetta] is a daughrter of the opéra-comique that didn't quite turn out right. However, girls that didn't turn out right aren't always without fun".
Though it is a genre made popular in France (notably by German transplant Jacques Offenbach), operetta was alive and well in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Its most significant composer in the genre was Johann Strauss II; his first operetta was Indigo und die vierzig Räuber (1871). His third operetta, Die Fledermaus (1874), became the most performed operetta in the world, and remains his most popular stage work. Its libretto was based on a comedy written by Offenbach's librettists. In all, Strauss wrote 16 operettas and one opera, most with great success when first premiered.
This week’s podcast finds its roots in an old CBC Records CD entitled “Oktoberfest Operetta”, which featured the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra under its then-music director, the Egyptian-born, Vienna-trained and adoptive Canadian conductor Rafi Armenian.
Certainly here in Canada, Oktoberfest is celebrated over a 9-day period ending on our Thanksgiving holiday (which was this past 3-day weekend), and the greater Kitchener-Waterloo area is the prime destination; since 1969, Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest has developed its own traditions, becoming the largest Bavarian festival in North America with the greatest Thanksgiving Day Parade in Canada. Through the celebration of this Spirit of Gemuetlichkeit, the local economy is stimulated and over 70 charities and not-for-profit organizations raise funds to support the high quality of life enjoyed in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The area has gained fame over the years, thanks greatly to the University of Waterloo, renowned for its Math and Computer programs that – among others – gave us the Blackberry. However, K-W has a long-standing German tradition, starting after the American Revolution and the migration of Loyalists and especially German Mennonite farming families from Pennsylvania. They wanted to live in an area that would allow them to practice their beliefs without persecution. One of these Mennonite families, arriving in 1807, were the Schneiders, whose restored 1816 home (the oldest building in the city) is now a museum located in the heart of Kitchener. Immigration to the town increased considerably from 1816 until the 1870s, many of the newcomers being of German (particularly Lutheran, and Mennonite) extraction. In 1833 the town was named Berlin, and in 1853 Berlin became the County Seat of the newly created County of Waterloo, elevating it to the status of Village.

Anti-German sentiment during the First World War led to the abandonment of much of this heritage and in 1916, following much debate and controversy, the name of the city was changed to Kitchener, after the late British Field Marshal The 1st Earl Kitchener.
Our podcast begins and ends with selections from Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron (1885). Both sets of selections come from the aforementioned disc by Armenian and the K-W Symphony Orchestra.

The Armenian disc featured selected songs from two operattas and I chose to “expand” on these by embedding larger medleys of these.

The Viennese operatic tradition was carried on by Oscar Straus, Carl Zeller, Karl Millöcker, Leo Fall, Richard Heuberger, Edmund Eysler, Ralph Benatzky, Robert Stolz, and Nico Dostal. Emmerich Kálmán and Franz Lehár were the leading composers of what has been called the "Silver Age" of Viennese operetta during the first quarter of the 20th century. Kálmán became well known for his fusion of Viennese waltz with Hungarian csárdás. Gräfin Mariza (Countess Mariza) is an operetta in three acts composed by Kálmán, with a libretto by Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald. It premiered in Vienna on 28 February 1924. In this operetta, Count Tassilo has lost his job and his entire fortune. And so Countess Mariza, on whose lands he has sought refuge as an estate manager, initially shows him little respect. An attractive and successful woman herself, she can barely fend off her many troublesome admirers. Only gradually does she realize that it is actually the poor but proud estate manager whom she loves…

Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) is an operetta by Lehár, with librettists, Viktor Léon and Leo Stein, an 1861 comedy play, L'attaché d'ambassade (The Embassy Attaché) by Henri Meilhac. The story concerns a rich widow, and her countrymen's attempt to keep her money in the principality by finding her the right husband. The operetta has enjoyed extraordinary international success since its 1905 premiere in Vienna and continues to be frequently revived and recorded. Film and other adaptations have also been made. Well-known music from the score includes the "Vilja Song", "Da geh' ich zu Maxim", and the "Merry Widow Waltz".

I think you will love this music too!

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