During the years of his musical maturity in the 1880s, Carl Millöcker (1842 - 1899) was regarded as an operetta composer in the same class as Johann Strauss II and Franz von Suppé. Indeed, it was Suppé who recommended his colleague as a conductor to the Thalia-Theater in Graz in 1864. Millöcker, who had been trained as a flutist at the Vienna Conservatory from 1855 to 1858, moved about considerably as he established himself, first as a conductor, and later as a composer of operetta. While at first, Millöcker wrote one-act works similar to those of Offenbach, he subsequently turned to composing full-length operettas. Of all his successful stage works, Der Bettelstudent (1882) has maintained the firmest hold on the public's affections.
Gräfin Dubarry (1879), set to a libretto by Zell and Genée, was not a major success. It nevertheless contained some quite beguiling music, notably the arias composed for the heroine, based on an actual historical French countess who was a favored mistress of King Louis XV. From her exceedingly modest start as a millinery worker, Jeanne (as she is known) rises to celebrity as a Parisian dancer and singer. In "Ich schenk mein Herz" (I Offer my Heart) she recounts the joys and disappointments of love and expresses her resolve to give her heart to one special man only, be he slave or king. Another aria beloved of operetta sopranos is "Was ich im Leben beginne...Ja so ist sie, die Dubarry" (When I begin a thing in life...Yes, that's what she is like, this Dubarry). Often referred to as "Jeanne's Song" (especially when sung in English translation), this aria offers a buoyant opening and close brightly enfolding a glowing 3/4 time center section, first reflective, then ecstatic as the countess Dubarry describes the fire of her kiss for the right man.
While the work in toto has been poorly represented on disc, several prominent sopranos have essayed these two memorable sections from the score -- most notably Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who set an intoxicating, unsurpassable standard in a 1957 recording of operetta arias.
However modest the acclaim extended to the original work, Dubarry achieved considerable popularity when, in 1931, the best portions of the score were appropriated for a pastiche by Theo Mackeben, presented under the title Die Dubarry. In this form, set to an entirely new libretto, Millöcker's music achieved the same widespread performance and acceptance as that enjoyed by his most successful works of the 1880s and 1890s (such as Der Bettelstudent. The revision was frequently produced and very well received throughout Europe, England, and North America.