Opera Scotland

Grand Duchess of Gerolstein La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein; The Grand Duchess

Music

Jacques Offenbach (born Cologne, 20 June 1819; died Paris, 5 October 1880)

Text

Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

Source

Original.

 

Premières

First performance: Paris (Théâtre des Variétés), 12 April 1867.

First UK performance: London (Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket), 18 November 1867.

First performance in Scotland: tbc

Scottish Opera première: tbc.

 

Background

The Grand Duchess was the greatest success of Offenbach’s career, largely due to its timing. It was mounted as one of the principal entertainments for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, following the already successful Vie Parisienne, which had opened six months earlier at the Palais-Royale. Instead of being a satire on the characters of Parisians and foreigners, this time the target was the little German principalities in which Offenbach had grown up, and which had recently disappeared with Bismarck’s drive for unification. There was enough similarity to the attitudes prevalent in Second Empire France for much of the satire still to seem relevant.

 

Main Characters

Fritz, a private (tenor)

Wanda, a peasant girl, engaged to Fritz (soprano)

Grand Duchess (mezzo-soprano)

General Boum (bass)

Baron Puck, Prime Minister (baritone)

Baron Paul, suitor to the Grand Duchess (tenor)

Baron Grog, a diplomat (baritone)

Nepomuc, Aide-de-Camp (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The Grand Duchess of the small state of Gerolstein is carrying out a review of her troops, a distraction arranged by her government. She is happy to admit that she finds them all wonderfully attractive, but is particularly drawn to a young private, Fritz. On questioning him, she finds him more attractive still, and she promotes him to captain. General Boum is already angry with Fritz because the general himself fancies Wanda, the soldier’s fiancée. When the general puts forward his plans of battle to the Duchess, Fritz interrupts to rubbish them, and is then invited to submit his own ideas. However he is of too lowly a rank for this to be allowed, so she promptly promotes him to the rank of General and gives him a title. The duchess now considers his analysis of military tactics to be so brilliant that she immediately promotes him to Commander-in-Chief. This does not please the incumbent General Boum, or his colleagues, particularly when Fritz turns out to be a military success. On his victorious return from battle, Fritz turns down offers of affection from the Duchess, and, infuriated, she joins the rivals’ plot to kill him. However she then decides to marry Prince Paul and reprieve Fritz, allowing him to marry Wanda after all. Their revenge is restricted to interruptions of his wedding night. However, when the Duchess’s own wedding is interrupted by Fritz, in a dishevelled state after being beaten up on Boum’s orders, she demotes him once more, and Boum is restored to his original position.

The Cast

Baron Grog
 a diplomat
Baron Puck
 Prime Minister, and the Duchess's tutor
Fritz
 a soldier
General Boum
 
Grand Duchess
 
Nepomuk
 Aide-de-Camp
Prince Paul
 suitor of the Grand Duchess
Wanda
 a country girl, engaged to Fritz

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