Sunday, October 25, 2015

Great Strauss' Ghost!

An Englishman, a Frenchman, and a Hungarian walk into an opera house. The Wiener Staatsoper. The program is the overture to Die Fledermaus, by Johann Strauss II, followed by the rest of the opera, also by Johann Strauss II.

Following the overture, the opera proceeds in much the usual fashion, excepting for the part where everyone seems to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. At the first intermission, the Englishman, Frenchman, and Hungarian walk into the lobby and discuss the show.

"It's good," says the Frenchman, "but it's no French operetta."

"Of course not," says the Englishman. "It's a Viennese operetta."

"As are all great operettas," finishes the Hungarian. "So says the Hungarian composer of Viennese operettas, Lehar."

"But they're not as good as Sullivan's," says the Englishman.

"Or Offenbach's," finishes the Frenchman.

The Englishman turns his head, perplexed. "My good sir, I don't believe Bach ever wrote any operas."

"Let alone the superior genre known as operettas," chimes in the Hungarian.

"No," agrees the Frenchman. "But Offenbach did."

"No, Bach did not!" exclaims the Englishman. "Or he did, but did so rarely!"

"I think I see our confusion," says the Frenchman. "When I say 'Offenbach did write operas', you hear I am saying 'Johann Sebastian Bach wrote operas frequently.' But I am not. Rather, I am saying that the composer Offenbach did."

"Did what?"

"Write operas."

"Now that's all well and good," agrees the Englishman, "But again I must exclaim 'My good sir,' as I do believe all the Bachs survived to adulthood with both parents intact."

"What are you talking about? What does this have to do with Bax?"

"Well," comments the Hungarian, "we did just sit through the overture to a picaresque comedy."

"Hardly picaresque," rebuts the Frenchman.

"Hardly a comedy,"

"Besides, it was followed by the first act. You can hardly say we 'just sat through the overture.'"

"What are you talking about?" interrupts the Englishman, struggling to get the conversation back on some sort of semblance of a track. "You refer to the orphan Bach, but I don't believe any of the Bachs were orphans. Unless, I suppose, you're referring to the disinherited PDQ."

"PDQ?"

"He hasn't been born yet, but he's been ready-disinherited."

"No, I'm with Jacque here," interjects the Hungarian. "What are you talking about?"

"I'm not sure..."

"Pay no attention to Arthur and that ridiculous accent of his, Franz," says the Frenchman. "He is an Englishman, and as such holds the work of Gilbert and Sullivan above all others."

"I do!" he exclaims in classic Gilbertian fashion. "For Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas alone maintain their worldwide popularity -- Lehar, Offenbach, and even Strauss only ever wrote one operetta of note. Between them, I think."

"This is true," concedes the Frenchman. "Sullivan has produced the most -- quantitatively -- popular operettas... that no one ever performs! Offenbach's Tales Of Hoffmann sees itself on the stages of opera houses worldwide. The father of French operetta -- the predecessor to English and Viennese operetta --"

"Is Donizetti," finishes the Hungarian. "Le Fille Du Regiment and all that. The only piece of Offenbach's that endures is the one thing he wrote that isn't a lousy operetta! But take Lehar's Merry Widow! Now that is a show that graces opera houses and Broadway theaters alike to cheering crowds! Truly, the Hungarian is the king of operetta!"

"Talk to me when 'Hungarian operetta' is a recognized genre," says the Austrian, stepping into the debate, "as are French, English, and, most importantly, Viennese operetta. The first Viennese school, the second Viennese school, it is only fitting that operetta find its home in Vienna -- where you are all having this debate if you go back and read the first paragraph of this blog post."

"But didn't opera originate in Italy?"

"Good opera originates in Vienna. Gluck and all that."

"Well if nothing else, you're ruining this debate!"

"Why is that?"

"Well, we had a good three-sided argument going to tribute Strauss," explains the Frenchman,  "the waltz-king, and then you show up and make it some sort of... infernal galop! A gavotte! No, worse, a polka!"

"Strauss wrote those too."

"So he did."

"And your idea of a tribute to Strauss was to debate between three other composers of operettas?"

"It wasn't the best-thought-out plan, I concede."

"No, it wasn't. You would have done better to just analyze the opera you're at this opera house to see -- the twelfth most popular opera in the world!"

"Thirteenth most if you count The Mikado" grumbles the Englishman.

"Yeah, well no one counts The Mikado," snaps the Hungarian, "so too bad."

"I don't see why they don't. It's just as artistically valid as operetta Hungary ever produced."

"What about Princess Ida?"

"That was one line because Gilbert wanted to rhyme 'ironmongery'!"

"Look," says the Austrian. "It hardly matters whose works are performed more than whomse, or whose are more artistically valid, or funny, or better salon music. Sullivan, Offenbach, Lehar, they all have their merits, but at the end of the day, the only composer anyone knows is Strauss. Because everyone loves a good waltz."

"You know, until that last bit," mutters the Frenchman, "I really thought he was going to try and unite us together."

"He did," says the Englishman. "He's uniting us against Strauss."

The Hungarian agrees, "I hate that guy now! Except for Capriccio."

The Englishman nods. "Except for Capriccio."

"You can hardly argue with Capriccio, " agrees the Frenchman.

"..." dramatically pauses the Austrian. "Wrong Strauss, idiots."