Operetta Fans Should Appreciate the Rare 'Duchess'

Article excerpt

Byline: Jack Helbig

Gregg Opelka and I go way back. We collaborated on a musical called "Hotel d'Amour," which had a nice run five summers ago at the College of Du Page. (I translated Feydeau's "A Flea in Her Ear" from the French and he wrote the music and lyrics.)

Since then my career has veered in a more journalistic direction - I pretty much retired from the musical-writing biz after "Hotel d'Amour" closed - while Opelka's work in theater has bloomed.

His show "Monky Business," a monk-filled version of "Nunsense," has become a regional hit, playing at theaters across the country. And Opelka hopes the show's sequel, "Monky Business II: Back in the Sandals Again," will turn out to be as popular as the original.

Opelka's latest project has a little more heft to it. Since January he and Light Opera Works' artistic director Phillip A. Kraus have been translating a rarely produced operetta, "The Duchess of Chicago," by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kalman. A hit when first produced in Vienna in 1928, the show is a light-hearted look at what happens when a jazz-loving American flapper who is the daughter of a Chicago meat packing magnate becomes entangled with the hidebound, waltz-loving Prince of Sylvaria, a small, nearly bankrupt Duchy.

"I have no idea why it was never produced in America," Opelka muses. "It's a wonderful little story. But then Kalman has never attained the stature here that he did in Europe. In Russia he is the king of operetta, bigger even that Johann Strauss and Franz Lehar. …