OPERETTA! Flowing champagne, ceaseless waltzing, risqué couplets, Graustarkian uniforms and glittering ballgowns, romancing and dancing! Gaiety and lightheartedness, sentiment and Schmalz. From Offenbach's opéras-bouffes in the 1850s and '60s, to Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operas in the 1870s and '80s, from the Golden Age of Suppé and Strauss II to the Silver Era of Lehár and Kálmán, through the Broadway operettas of the 1920s up to the romantic American musicals of the '40s and '50s, operettas have kept audiences enthralled for more than a century. Though the Second World War changed the course of operetta, its mutations continue, and recent productions on stage, film, and television continue to attract new generations to the older masterpieces.
Operetta attracted its audiences principally by means of its contagious melodies, though many other factors contributed to its popularity: clever libretti, satirical jibes, romantic intrigue, mesmerizing stars, lovely chorus girls, and scenic splendor. But the songs were always the most important element in this popular genre.
This is a theatrical history of a genre that is remembered today principally for its music. Many can hum items ranging from the Letter Song from La Périchole to "Wanting You, " but it is becoming increasingly difficult to recall the works these tunes are from, operettas which were once hugely, internationally popular but which are now less frequently performed. Even the names of operetta composers are forgotten by the general public. With the exception of some of the lyrics from the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in English-speaking countries (almost always exceptions to general operetta rules), the words to operetta songs are seldom remembered, and not much energy has been expended glorifying the operetta libretto as literature.
For the sake of convenience and order, this book examines the major operettas, within the confines of their eras, by composer.
The history of operetta is a theatrical one. From their very inception in midnineteenth-century Paris, operettas were intended as entertainments not for op-