THE TURN of the century was a paradoxical period for operetta in Paris. Certain theatres disappeared, while others noted for their operettas switched over to non-operetta presentations. The opéra-bouffe became an endangered species, while the phenomenon of the vaudeville-opérette had escalated, ensuring snappy little comic couplets, marches, ballads, and little else. Musical comedy had begun in England, and its somewhat cheapening effects were felt in France, Germany, and Austria, though, to be fair, these countries had always had their farces with songs. By 1901 the number of operettas opening in Paris had dropped drastically, and their level of quality had likewise fallen.
On the other hand, business was not altogether bad. Dance-music variations of the latest operettas proved potent advertising for the new works, and sales of piano arrangements for drawing-room consumption were tremendous. So were postcard sales of the lovely actresses who appeared in operetta. Concurrent with the tremendous growth of music-hall audiences to see what had now become variety or vaudeville, in normal theatres without tables, the operetta saw a similar increase in attendance, with a similar democratization. The upper galleries and pits were more heavily trafficked, and these tastes were generally broader than those of the stalls and circle.
There were a few exceptional operettas by composers who held on to fairly high standards, resisting as much as possible vaudeville encroachings. André Messager, probably the most graceful operetta composer of any era, reached his summit in the 1890s and continued right up to the end of the 1920s with his charming compositions. With few exceptions, however, the works of Messager's Parisian contemporaries have been found to be unrevivable, save for sporadic broadcasts on French radio.