The programme of this concert-revue revolves around all matters of the heart and comprises numbers from stage works by two of the most prominent Viennese operetta composers; Franz Lehár and Oscar Straus – both born in 1870, but not exactly friends. Competing for audiences and critical attention, they eventually settled on differing artistic paths. While Oscar Straus found his calling in the Berlin cabaret scene and went on to write operettas for stage diva Fritzi Massary that were sparkling in both sound and sight, Franz Lehár veered towards a compositional style that embraced the operatic. Oscar Straus’ thoroughly Viennese Walzertraum (A Waltz Dream) was a direct reaction to Lehár’s stellar success of Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) and hit a nerve with audiences world-wide – likewise his Der tapfere Soldat (The Chocolate Soldier) was particularly welcome in the English-speaking world due to its anti-military flavour. Writing in Berlin during the Weimar Republic, his operettas reflected the Zeitgeist of the era, with the female lead asking openly: “Why shouldn’t a woman have an affair?” in Eine Frau, die weiß was sie will (A Woman and Her Own Mind).
Lehár’s heart beat for Vienna for as long as he lived and it must have pained him greatly to leave for Berlin in the late 1920s – a city that increasingly took over from Vienna as the operetta capital of Europe. Lehár had seen great success in Vienna and further afield before the First World War: His Juxheirat (The Mock Marriage) from 1904 might have been overshadowed by The Merry Widow, but presents an attractive score and a story featuring a battle of the sexes, with hints of cross-dressing. With increasing critical and popular success, Lehár’s influence on the libretti he set to music grew, one example being the erotic fantasy of a couple trapped on a moun- tain in bad weather in Schön ist die Welt (How Fair the World). He can also be credited with some of the most unusual and moving operetta endings – steering away from the compulsory happy endings, most prominently in Der Zarewitsch (The Tsarevich). Speaking of creative control – Lehár’s close companion and collaborator Richard Tauber made his own demands on operettas he was due to perform in. It took Lehár three attempts to complete an aria for Zarewitsch that convinced Tauber. Ultimately, it was another of the tenor songs that stood the test of time and remains one of the most beloved melodies in operetta history: the “Wolgalied”. Two of the lesser- featured operettas in Lehár’s oeuvre are Die blaue Mazur (The Blue Mazur) and Frühlingsmädel (Springtime Girl). The former featured musical elements of Polish popular dances, much in line with the libretto’s focus on the dos and don’ts at a Polish wedding. The latter was a re-purposed show Lehár first composed for a Viennese cabaret. What was then the one-act Frühling, became the much-enlarged Frühlingsmädel, presented in Berlin in 1928. Its protagonist Ewald heartily suggests: “Komm, die Nacht gehört der Sünde” – night is the time for sin!