Jacques Offenbach

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, operetta in 3 acts

    Description by Adrian Corleonis

    As Napoléon III's expansionist ambitions laced French political life with a frisson of precariousness, the waning years of the Second Empire were iconographically marked by Offenbach's frothiest, most ambitious, and most enduring operettas, satires all -- La Belle Hélène (1864), guying the stupidity and cupidity of "heroes" and rulers; La Vie parisienne (1866), establishing the myth of Paris as the jaded capital of worldly pleasures; and, with the latter still enjoying a smash-hit run, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, opening at the Paris Variétés on April 12, 1867, after being cobbled together at breakneck speed to accompany the inauguration of the Paris World Exposition. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, librettists of those triumphs (and, in 1873, of Bizet's Carmen), were tapped once again, though Offenbach, guided by his keen sense of timing, exercised a major hand in shaping the book. With the Exposition drawing the full panoply of European royalty, nothing was spared to assure La Grande Duchesse's surefire success, beginning with the soprano lead, the grand duchess herself, for which Offenbach signed the reigning diva of operetta -- the creator of Helen in La Belle Hélène, among several other Offenbach roles -- the legendary Hortense Schneider at the astronomical sum of 4,500 francs a month. Tall, blonde, buxom, vocally endowed, with a saucily commanding presence on-stage and off, Schneider was charismatically fitted to portray one of the libretto's not-so-covert targets, Tsarina Catherine II, "the Great," whose sexual precocity -- in Don Juan, Byron refers to her as "queen of queans" and "greatest of all sovereigns and whores" -- was a still living memory and never-ending scandal. The pretentious pomp of militarism, petty intrigues, and overbearing idiocy masquerading in uniform provided other ready targets. Bismarck, who came for the Exhibition with the King of Prussia, attended, leaving with the remark "C'est tout-a-fait ça!" (That's how it is!) Emperor Napoléon waited until April 24 to see it, but soon returned with Empress Eugénie. The Prince of Wales, Tsar Alexander II (who wired ahead from Cologne for a ticket), the Kings of Bavaria, Portugal, and Sweden, the Sultan of Turkey, the Viceroy of Egypt, Ismail Pasha -- all came at least once, and some many times. Following the opening, a few small cuts facilitated the work's spanking pace, coruscating brilliance, and unflagging effervescence escalating, at frequent intervals, into irresistible tunefulness. In the upshot, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein became an immediate international hit, playing to rapt audiences in Vienna, London, and New York before the year was out.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Ouverture
    2. No. 2, Tournons et valsons?
    3. No. 3a, Ô mon Fritz
    4. No. 3b, Allez, jeunes filles
    5. No. 4, Pif, Paf, Pouf
    6. No. 5, Me voici! me voici!
    7. No. 6, Portez armes
    8. No. 7a, Vous aimez le danger
    9. No. 7b, Ah! Que j'aime les militaires
    10. No. 8, Ah! c'est un fameux régiment
    11. No. 9a, Ils vont tous partir
    12. No. 9b, Voici le sabre de mon père
    13. No. 10a, Enfin la guerre est terminée
    14. No. 10b, Je t'ai sur mon coeur
    15. No. 10c, Ah! lettre adorée
    16. No. 11, Après le victoire
    17. No. 12, En très bon ordre
    18. No. 13a, Oui, Général
    19. No. 13b, Dites-lui qu'on l'a remarqué, distigué
    20. No. 14a, Ne devinez-vous pas
    21. No. 14b, Max était soldat de fortune
    22. No. 15, Logeons-la donc
    23. No. 16, Ce qu'on a fait
    24. No. 17, Sortez, sortez
    25. No. 18a, Nous amenons la jeune femme
    26. No. 18b, Bonne nuit, monsieur
    27. No. 19a, On peut être aimable
    28. No. 19b, Ouvrez, ouvrez
    29. No. 19c, À cheval, à cheval
    30. No. 19d, Notre auguste maîtresse
    31. No. 20, Au repas comme à la Bataille
    32. No. 21, Il était un de mes aieux (Légende du Verre)
    33. No. 22, Voici revenir
    34. No. 23, Enfin j'ai repris la panache

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2005 Erato / Virgin 7243545734
    2004 Preiser Records 90591
    2000 Gala Records 100552
    1997 Dynamic 173
    1997 EMI Music Distribution 566373-2