Operetta: A Theatrical History

By Richard Traubner | Go to book overview
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THE WEST END

BRITISH operetta had a difficult time after World War I recapturing the glorious years of Gilbert and Sullivan and the Edwardes era, when English shows were in demand internationally. With the exception of Sullivan, however, Britain was not able to come up with a truly outstanding operetta composer, although her librettists often shone. In the 1920s, American composers in England wrote scores for some British shows, while Broadway musicals and operettas enjoyed an enviable vogue. Several British composers attempted to write works that would withstand the American flood, but few succeeded, except in the realm of intimate revue, in which the London stage excelled.

Out of the small-scale revue came three composers for operetta, Noël Coward, Ivor Novello, and Vivian Ellis. Although none of their operettas has been successfully revived in recent years (as opposed to so many American works), their music (and lyrics) live on, through recordings.

The legitimate successor to Sullivan and Monckton in Britain was Noël Coward (1899-1973), unlikely as it may have seemed in 1929, when BitterSweet had its première (His Majesty's, 12 July). Known through the '20s principally for his smart revues and even smarter straight plays (like The Vortex, 1924), the proto-Strauss (more like Straus) Vienna of Bitter-Sweet, admittedly influenced by gramophone records of Die Fledermaus, no doubt surprised London audiences expecting something very different.

The role of Sari Linden was envisioned originally for Gertrude Lawrence, but her limited vocal range had Coward, reluctantly, looking for someone else. The second choice was Evelyn Laye. Unfortunately, Miss Laye was bitter over the

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