FRANZ LEHÁR ushered in the silver Viennese operetta with his greatest work, Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), in 1905. Though not immediately recognized as such, it was the beginning of a new wave of modern operettas in which the waltz was used for romantic, psychological plot purposes, and danced as much as sung. Some of the old conventions of nineteenth-century operetta remained, but vaudeville and revue elements were often kept in check as much as possible.
Lehár's melodic gifts were prodigious, and he had a penchant for sweepingly romantic phrases which at once define his era. By the 1920s, the romance overshadowed any comedy or gaiety in Lehár's operettas, so that any connections with the comic operas of Strauss and Suppé and Millöcker were becoming remote. Similarly, the brilliant comic ensembles that were so much a part of the older operettas were found out of place in relatively intimate love stories. Instead, the chorus was brought in at the finales to comment on some serious love misunderstanding that occurred regularly at the ends of Acts I and II. Comic duets involving the comedian and soubrette were considered sufficient—usually three per operetta. And there were many, many love duets in waltz time. Following the London triumph of The Merry Widow in 1907, this Viennese format became world popular. (It is fair to point out that The Merry Widow was not yet a completely "silver" creation—it had many delightful choral effusions, elaborate and magnificently glittering finales of the old type, and a plot derived from Henri Meilhac, which made its kinship obvious to such operettas as Die Fledermaus.)