Posts Tagged ‘The Chocolate Soldier (comic opera)’


January 9, 2013

chorus girls from the first New York production of
Oscar Strauss’s The Chocolate Soldier,
Lyric Theatre, Manhattan,13 September 1909
(photo: White, New York, 1909)

‘Turned Into a Comic Opera Book Arms and the Man Is More Shavings Than Shavian.
‘As The Chocolate Soldier New Piece Is Especially distinguished by Strauss’s Charming Music.
‘THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER, an opera bouffe, in three acts. Music by Oscar Strauss. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and the Man. Libretto by Rudolph Bernauer and Leopold Jacobson. English version by Stanislaus Stange. Lyric [New York, 13 September 1909].

Nadina Popoff … Ida Brooks Hunt
Aurelia Popoff … Flavia Arcaro
Mascha … Edith Bradford
Lieutenant Bumerli … J.E. Gardner
Captain Massakroff … Henry Norman
Louka … Lillian Poli
Stephen … George C. Ogle
Colonel Kasimir Popoff … William Pruette
Major Alexius Spirideff … George Tallman
Soldiers of Bulgarian Army, gentry, peasants, wedding guests, villagers, musicians, &c.

‘Count Mr. George Bernard Shaw himself in his most fantastic mood have imagined anything more ironical than Mr. George Bernard Shaw set to comic opera music, danced and soubretted, done into duos, trios, and quintets, march time, walt time, everything, fortunately, but rag time.
‘That is what has happened to Arms and the Man, acted here originally by the late Richard Mansfield, subsequently revived by Arnold Daly and now imported as The Chocolate Solider, with made-in-Vienna label. How much of the present book is due to Rudolph Bernauer and Leopold Jacobson, the foreign librettists, and how much to Stanislaus Stange, who has Englished it, would be difficult to say, but as far as lines and story go it is more shavings than Shavian.
‘That, however, need not matter if Mr. Shaw is satisfied. And as it stands The Chocolate Soldier is a decidedly pleasant evening’s entertainment. Once in a while the real Shaw lines and situations come to the surface, and then one wonders if it wouldn’t have been better to stick more precisely to the text, but Mr. Oscar Strauss’s music is so soothing, where it is meant to be soothing, and so stirring where it is meant to be stirring, that it really need not matter. Mr. Shaw has been taking liberties with other people so long it isn’t surprising that chickens come home to roost.
‘People are renamed in the operatic version apparently to suit the librettist’s sense of humour, with Bluntehli becoming Bumeril, which might have a sort of meaning in German, though you must drop the last two syllables to give it any point in English. Their dispositions and intentions are considerably changed, also, from what they appear to be in Arms and the Man.
‘Instead of the one maiden succumbing to the attractions of the Swiss adventurer, here we have three, (including the mother of the bride-to-be,) and they quarrel for the privilege of soothing him to sleep after his hurried escape from the pursuing Bulgarians, when he takes refuge in Nadina’s bedchamber. So, too, each of the three must hide her photographs in the borrowed coat, to make the complication greater when the returning Popoff arrives on the scene. In other words, the general idea seems to be that it will not do to be too subtle in a comic opera, which perhaps is the right idea.
‘Mr. Shaw cables last night that if the audiences was pleased with the entertainment they should congratulate themselves, and it is not unlikely that his advice was followed by the greatest number of those present. For there is enough broad fooling to the action to make it appealing to people who do not care for Shaw, and enough bright and spirited music to make it worth while to those who do, but who now find they must take a good deal of his play for granted.
’ When somebody or other sings, ”Why don’t you close the shutters? My heart with terror flutters,” you are certain that you will not find those lines or any like them in Arms and the Man, but fortunately you are more likely to be interested in the refrain rather than the words.
‘The music in fact is most agreeable, from the charming aria in the first act, with its lilting, rhythmic waltz movement, to the delightful duo in the last, in which Bumerli insists that Nadia loves him, though he is reading a letter in which she has expressly tried to covey the other impression. There is a fine swinging march to bring on the soldiers and the populace overjoyed that, ”the war is ended, the war is ended,” and a capital trio, one of the kind in which one after the other of the characters repeat insistently ”Something is wrong,” ”something is wrong,” ”something is wrong,” though there does not appear to be the slightest desire on the part of any one to deny it.
‘The music is very well sung, too, and the piece is charmingly staged, though there is hardly a girl in the chorus who isn’t a reminder of the old story of the newly married man who begged his wife to sing. They do sing, too, with good spirit in the ensembles, which is something for which to be thankful.
Ida Brooks Hunt, acting with plenty of vivacity, easily carries off the vocal honors in the rôle of the girl whom the Chocolate Soldier surprises and who he is eventually to marry. She has a rich, well-trained voice, no unpleasant affectations, with sweetness, and good range, and, not the least important essential for this sort of thing, she enunciates so as to be understood. Edith Bradford soubrettes easily though the rôle of Mascha, a substitute for the Louka of the original play, dances nicely, and shares with Flavia Arcaro the secondary honors among the women.
‘Mr. Gardner’s acting of the Swiss adventurer can scarcely be judged from the standards of the rôle that have been establishes, but he seems to satisfy the popular idea of the comic-opera hero, and he was agreeable in several of the duos, while George Tallman, William Pruette, and Henry Norman filled in the other rôles very well.
‘Mr. [Antonio] De Novellis conducted with enthusiasm.’
(The New York Times, New York, Tuesday, 14 September 1909, p. 9c)