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This chapter offers a brief overview of the history of operetta in Russia, starting with performances and reception of German and French operettas from the eighteenth to the twentieth century, and exploring home-grown, Soviet operetta. It will show that operetta was big business in tsarist Russia, and later in the Soviet Union, and demonstrate that it was a valuable resource, a laughter therapy, for the Soviet authorities with which to anaesthetize the masses to the realities of life. The works by German and French composers dominated Russian operetta stages, with the most popular composers being Suppé, Offenbach, Planquette, Hervé and Lecocq, until Soviet composers began to create operettas according to the new, official socialist realism style. This chapter will briefly introduce significant operetta composers – Dunayevsky, Strelnikov, Aleksandrov and Milyutin – and discuss contributions to the genre from such well-known composers as Shostakovich and Kabalevsky. It also gives a brief account of how operetta was instrumental to boosting the morale of the population ravaged by World War II, especially in blockaded Leningrad, and shows that operetta (both European and Soviet) is still popular in today’s Russia.
This introduction serves as an overview of the development of operetta and points to the neglect of operetta by many scholars of music and theatre. The editors begin by defining this genre, which is multi-faceted and often difficult to categorize. The introduction sets the stage for the following chapters by guiding the reader towards the important landmarks in the historical developments of operetta, such as those that occurred in France, Austria and London, and, in the twentieth century, in Berlin. In doing so, it also comments on notable composers and works. It concludes with some reflections on operetta reception in the twenty-first century.
This chapter will show that although Warsaw is not a city readily associated with the global success of operetta, it was the place where operetta performances were not only popular but lucrative, and that they rivalled Vienna and Berlin with the quality of their productions and star-studded casts. Before World War I, operetta had no competition in Warsaw: it had publicity, stars, excellent productions, stunning stage sets and the latest lighting and stage equipment. Polish musicians, actors and directors had direct links with European theatres, and Warsaw was close to such operetta centres as Vienna, Berlin and Budapest. Warsaw operetta divas were celebrities adored by the public and critics alike. Some of them died leaving astronomical fortunes and lasting memories and recordings, some died tragically, and some died in complete oblivion. The chapter will look at the most significant operetta theatre not only in Warsaw but arguably in the whole of Poland, Teatr Nowosci, and some of the people who made it one of the city’s biggest attractions: Ludwik Sliwinski, Wiktoria Kawecka, Kazimira Niewiarowska, Jósef Redo and Lycina Messal.
Those whose thoughts of musical theatre are dominated by the Broadway musical will find this book a revelation. From the 1850s to the early 1930s, when urban theatres sought to mount glamorous musical entertainment, it was to operetta that they turned. It was a form of musical theatre that crossed national borders with ease and was adored by audiences around the world. This collection of essays by an array of international scholars examines the key figures in operetta in many different countries. It offers a critical and historical study of the widespread production of operetta and of the enthusiasm with which it was welcomed. Furthermore, it challenges nationalistic views of music and approaches operetta as a cosmopolitan genre. This Cambridge Companion contributes to a widening appreciation of the music of operetta and a deepening knowledge of the cultural importance of operetta around the world.
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