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Development of Early Musical Theatre Outside America, Part II: 18th and 19th Century Comic Opera

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Rick Gomez

on 22 January 2018

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Transcript of Development of Early Musical Theatre Outside America, Part II: 18th and 19th Century Comic Opera

Development of Early Musical Theatre:
Outside America, Part II

18th and 19th Century
Comic Opera

Paris: Jacques Offenbach and 19th C. Operetta
Vienna: Johann Strauss and Singspiel
London: Gilbert and Sullivan and the Savoy Operas

London: John Gay and 18th C. Ballad Opera
1728: The Beggar's Opera
John Gay, Playwright and Lyricist.
Johann Pepusch, Arranger
1855: Les Deux Aveugles.
1858: Orphee aux Enfers
1867: La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein.
1881: Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
Operetta career began 1855 at the Exposition Universelle (A Parisian World's Fair). Limited to 1 Act and 3 characters by imperial law so as not to compete with government sponsored operas.
The Theatre Bouffe Parisien. Only 50 seats, but just off Champs Elysees near fairgrounds. After initial success, moves to 668 seat theater and gives it the same name.
Born Jakob, Jewish native of Cologne, Germany. In Paris, converted to Catholicism and changed name to Jacques.
Operetta: Lighter subject matter than opera. Also unlike opera in treatment of text and music. In opera, music is primary; In operetta, words and music are equal.
After Franco-Prussian War, tastes for comic opera diminished; Offenbach changed to Extravaganzas.
1874: Die Fledermaus (The Bat)
Strauss: In late 19th C., he was one of world's most famous composers, esp. of waltzes and polkas; Known as "The Waltz King."
Die Fledermaus is an example of a Singspiel, a type of operetta that combines dialogue and singing.
2 versions of Adele's laughing song.
Are we there yet?
W.S. Gilbert, librettist, and Arthur Sullivan, composer, collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896. These are arguably the most popular operettas of all time.
Producer, Richard D'Oyly Carte, brought Gilbert and Sullivan together and built the Savoy Theatre in 1881 to present their joint works (which came to be known as the Savoy Operas)
Carte founded the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, which performed and promoted Gilbert and Sullivan's works for over a century. (Wikipedia, Gilbert and Sullivan.)

The Pirates of Penzance: Example of a Patter Song,
"I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General."
The Mikado: "Three Little Maids from School"
HMS Pinafore: "A British Tar"
General: I ask you, have you ever known what it is to be an orphan?

King: Often!

General: Yes, orphan. Have you ever known what it is to be one?

King: I say, often.

Pirates: (Disgusted) Often, often, often! (Turning away)

General: I don’t think we quite understand one another. I ask you,
have you ever known what it is to be an orphan, and you say “orphan.”
As I understand you, you are merely repeating the word “orphan” to
show that you understand me.

King: I didn’t repeat the word often.

General: Pardon me, you did indeed.

King: I only repeated it once.

General: True, but you repeated it.

King: But not often.

General: Stop! I think I see where we are getting confused. When
you said “orphan,” did you mean “orphan,” a person who has lost his
parents, or “often” frequently?

King: Ah! I beg pardon. I see what you mean. Frequently.

General: Ah, you said “often” frequently.

King: No, only once.

General: (irritated) Exactly, you said “often” frequently, only once.
Clever use of language.
Orpheus and Eurydice get married, but later that night, Eurydice is bit by a snake and dies. Overcome with grief, Orpheus travels to the Underworld to bring her back to life. He convinces Hades and Persephone to let Eurydice go, but her release comes with a catch: Eurydice must walk behind him as they ascend to the upper world, and Orpheus is forbidden from looking at her. Unfortunately, Orpheus is overcome with passion just as they reach the exit. He turns to look at Eurydice and she is immediately sent back to the Underworld – forever. Orpheus is devastated and is eventually ripped to shreds by a group of drunken mad women.
The married life of Orpheus and Eurydice is far from being a classical one. Eurydice has had enough of her husband, a violin virtuoso and director of the conservatory of Thebes, and has given up hiding her affair with the shepherd Aristeus. Aristeus, however, is in truth Pluto, the lord of the underworld, who stages a tragic death for Eurydike so he can take his loved one down to Hades. Orpheus feels relieved, for now he can fully devote himself to his female pupils. But at that point, Public Opinion steps in. After all, the good reputation of classical antiquity is at stake, so he asks the characters to keep to the mythology. Thus Orpheus, like it or not, is ordered to call at Mount Olympus and to lodge a complaint against Pluto.
Classical Synopsis
Offenbach Synopsis
Two "blind" beggars compete for the best position on a bridge, first in a musical ballte with Patachon playing on a trombone and Giraffier a mandolin, then in a game of cards, in which they cheat and betrey their pretense of blindness. Business has not been brisk. When passers-by drop coins, the beggars are able to see well enough to retrieve them. To impress each other, they fabricate wild stories, accompanied by singing. The contest becomes comically grotesque.
The plot is outrageously comical. The Grand Duchess is charming but bossy. She finds war an amusing pastime and is more attracted to military uniforms than to the personalities that wear them. Betrothed to Prince Paul, she takes a liking to Fritz, a soldier in love with Wanda, and promotes him in stages to captain and finally commander-in-chief.
She sends Fritz into battle, where he conquers the enemy by letting the latter get drunk on 3,000 bottles of booze. An aborted assassination conspiracy ensues. The Duchess casts her eye on a new object, Baron Grog, only to find that he is married with four children. So it’s back to Prince Paul for her. “If you can’t have those you could love, you must try to love those you can have.” It’s all hilariously nonsensical, and this production conveys the silliness splendidly.
Fredrick was meant to be an apprentice of a pilot but his maid mistakes her master's wish for a pirate and after many years he discovers the truth.He is ready to leave the Pirates of penzance when his maid pleads him to take her with him. He agrees but shortly after he meets the daughters of the major general and falls madly in love with them, so he rejects his maid Ruth.After they say no to loving him fore he was a pirate, the fairest of them all, Mabel agrees to love him. But some thing stirs up in the story and him and his sense of duty as a pirate is stuck in the middle.
Ralph Rackstraw, a poor seaman, is in love with Josephine, the Captain's daughter, but she is too high above him in the social scale for him to even consider asking her to marry him. Also, he has a rival in the form of Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, the Ruler of the Queen's Navee. Sir Joseph Porter, who is fully aware of his own importance, is an arrogant snob who feels that Josephine is far beneath him on the social scale. However, contemptuous though he feels about this factor, he will overlook the fact that she is just a humble Captain's daughter and that he would therefore be marrying beneath his rank. The Captain is all for his daughter marrying such an illustrious person as Sir Joseph Porter, but Josephine detests the idea. Furthermore, she is in love with poor Ralph Rackstraw.
Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado, leaves home and disguises himself as a musician to escape a distasteful marriage - and meets a beautiful girl, Yum-Yum, with whom he falls in love. He desperately wants to marry her, but obstacles are cast in his way by Yum-Yum's guardian, Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, who is also in love with Yum-Yum and has every intention of marrying her, himself. Also causing problems is Katisha, Nanki-Poo's jilted bride, who arrives in Titipu in the company of Nanki-Poo's father, the Mikado.
Gabriel von Eisenstein has to serve a short prison sentence for slander. His friend Falke advises him to first live it up at Prince Orlofsky’s masked ball, but without his wife Rosalinde knowing. In the meantime Rosalinde’s plans to entertain her lover Alfred are thwarted when Alfred instead of Eisenstein is taken off to prison by the prison governor. Rosalinde also goes to Orlofsky’s ball… Eisenstein makes every effort to seduce an unknown, masked beauty who filches his fine watch. The next day, when Eisenstein reports at the prison where Alfred is locked up in his place, all the strange goings-on come to light and Eisenstein realizes he seduced his own wife at the ball (as the watch proves). The chapter is declared closed and the champagne is blamed for everything.
Loosely based on the life of the German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann, Tales of Hoffmann portrays a mysterious world where human and supernatural forces meet. In a tavern, the poet Hoffmann tells of his three ill-fated romances. In the first tale, he pursues the doll Olympia until she dances him into a mechanical frenzy, and he wearily realizes that she is not human. Next, he falls passionately in love with the sickly but gifted Antonia, who is compelled by her mother's portrait to sing away her last ounce of strength. Finally, Hoffmann is drawn against his will to Giulietta, who steals his reflection for the sorcerer Dapertuto. Blind with passion, Hoffmann murders Giulietta's lover Schlemil, only to see her entice yet another man. As the last tale ends, Hoffmann, lost in a bitter haze of drink and memory, fails to notice Stella, the woman who truly loves him, as she tosses him a flower.
Goal: To engage comic opera in such a way as to offer more fun than grand opera but still retain musical sophistication (Kenrick).
John Gay, the father of the Ballad Opera.
Ballad Opera: A satirical play with spoken dialogue, and familiar melodies to which new lyrics are added.
Before the start of the piece, the Beggar and the Player introduce the opera. The Beggar identifies himself as belonging to a “company of beggars,” with whom he frequents the area of St. Giles, a London district that was known to be a slum in the 18th century. He explains that he earns a modest income there in exchange for his songs and ballads. The Player then assures the audience that the Beggar's work should be judged on its artistic merit, and not on the appearance of its author. He insists that the Muses, i.e. the “poetic spirits,” pay no attention to fine clothing.

The Beggar next explains that he originally wrote this story to celebrate the marriage of two ballad-singers. He then insists to the audience that his opera follows the conventions of the celebrated, fashionable operas of the day. As examples, he notes that: his opera utilizes nature-similes; his opera includes a prison scene; and the female roles receive equal stage time.in contrast to a normal opera, it has no recitative and it is not "unnatural." The Player concludes their witty dialogue with "Play away the overture!"

The opera opens with Peachum, the thief-catcher, looking through his accounting books. He and his wife, Mrs. Peachum, are horrified when Polly, their daughter, announces that she has secretly married the highwayman, Macheath. Peachum and Mrs. Peachum see no redemption in the marriage, until Mr. Peachum decides that if Macheath is killed, the Peachums could collect Polly's inheritance; the couple plots the pursuit of Macheath. This alarms Polly who warns Macheath at once of her parents' plan. Macheath retreats to a tavern where several solicitous women are lurking. The women befriend him as they talk of their lives of crime, but two of the women turn him over to Peachum.

Macheath is brought to Newgate prison, where the warden is Lockit. (For more information, visit the ECE student project on Newgate Prison.) Lockit's daughter Lucy is madly in love with Macheath, who had previously made a proposal of marriage to her. Macheath swears his affection, but Polly arrives and reveals Macheath as her husband in front of Lucy. Macheath tries to cover Polly's claim by insisting that Polly is mad. Lucy is not completely satisfied, but she still devotes herself to his escape. Lockit finds out about the promised marriage to his daughter and realizes that he may be entitled to Macheath's money, upon Macheath's execution. Lockit meets Peachum to discuss this matter; Mrs. Trapes conveniently interrupts their meeting and announces Macheath's hiding place. Peachum and Lockit join forces together to capture Macheath.

Meanwhile, Polly seeks Lucy in hopes of saving Macheath. Lucy has planned to poison Polly, but Polly avoids the tainted cup. The two find out that Macheath has been captured and plead with their fathers to save him. Macheath is at the gallows and ready to die; he offers his last words to Polly and Lucy. The Beggar returns and announces that a moral ending would include the hanging of Macheath. However, since the audience came to see a happy ending, Macheath is released and whispers to Polly that she is his true wife.
Parodied Italian opera, and satirized British government corruption, especially the current Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. Gay was a Tory (libertarian), and Walpole, a Whig (conservative).
Highly Successful!!
But who is Beggar?
By N. Chevalier
To those reviewers who long for the Olivier version and who think of The Beggar's Opera through the charming lens of the 1920s revival: Gay would be spinning in his grave if he ever heard someone use the word "romantic" in conjunction with his acid little play. I know that the play took on a life of its own, and was revived virtually every season throughout the 18th century, but let's not forget that he was out to write a scathing satire of the political and social corruptions of his day: the very idea of having a beggar write an "opera" for the marriage celebration of two catch-singers seemed so outrageous that the audience wasn't sure whether or not to boo it offstage until the middle of the first act. Audiences in 1728 loved it because it ridiculed rich and powerful political figures while it skewered the pretensions of Italian opera and opera-singers; audiences afterwards got charmed by the songs and by the mythology of its characters, as the play lost its immediate topical sting.

Jonathan Miller's production attempts to restore something of the grittiness of the original play, both by having Roger Daltrey as Macheath and by recreating the squalor of Peachum's lock and of Newgate prison (compare Miller's set of Newgate with Hogarth's famous painting of Act III and you'll see what I mean). Daltrey is both good and not good as Macheath: Macheath does have something of the rock-star about him--and makes Polly and Lucy's attraction to him plausible--and Daltrey's sneer captures the cynicism that underlines Macheath's character. Moreover, Daltrey rises to the occasion perfectly when he sings the "Greensleeves" rewrite "Since Laws were made for ev'ry Degree", thundering out his bitterness with a power that could only come from someone more used to belting out "Young Man's Blues" than Handel. I'm a little surprised that one reviewer would refer to him as a "boy"--Daltrey was 39 when this production was made in 1983. However, he sometimes seems a little out of place with more classically trained singers, such as Carol Hall (a staple of John Eliot Gardiner's Montiverdi Choir). He may also strike some as too "modern" for what is presented here as a period-piece, tho' personally I found Daltrey made the piece more accessible.

As for the rest of the cast: Peachum is a hoot, and Mrs. Peachum is delightfully grubby. Lockit gets a bit annoying after a while, but he really is a one-dimensional character. The teo female leads are equally matched, as Gay's beggar says they should be: Polly tries to be as starched and respectable as Lucy tries to enjoy her low status. Kudos also to the Broadside Band for their excellent period-instrument rendering of the music--again, a vast improvement over more "romantic" conceptions of the opera.

Two criticisms to finish off: why Miller changed the ending is beyond me,and is the biggest misstep in an otherwise fine production. The sound, as others have noted, is terrible: a real hindrance for those trying to hear the music. Given that this was recorded for TV in 1983, some of the technical problems are excusable--but a digitally remastered version of the soundtrack would be most welcome.

Not a perfect rendering of the Beggar's Opera, but one appreciably closer to an eighteenth-century sensibility than previous versions.
1983 Televised Production with Roger Daltrey of The Who.
1953 Movie with Laurence Olivier
Gave rise to 2 later musicals:
1931-Three Penny Opera (Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weil)
1946-Beggar's Holiday-Duke Ellington, John La Touche
Beggar's Opera, example of Ballad Opera.
John Gay, the father of Ballad Opera.
Ballad Opera: A play in English with spoken dialogue (instead of recit.) and familiar melodies to which new lyrics were added.
Johann Pepusch arranged (originally meant to be monophony).

Beggar's Opera parodied Italian Opera while satirizing Government corruption, esp current Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole.
Gay was Tory (libertarian), Walpole, conservative.
Viewed as dangerous and subversive. Walpole succeeds in foiling production of sequel, Polly.
Gay dies 4 years after premiere of Beggar's Opera.
Other Ballad Operas are written but they avoid political and social commentary and have limited success.

Highly successful, 62 performances.
Still performed today.
1920: Production of Beggar's Opera at Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith, London runs for 1,463 performances.
Inspired Threepenny Opera and Beggar's Holiday.
Olivier, Daltrey versions.
Who is the Beggar? Author.
Beggar's Opera Notes
Full transcript