The Comic Opera Guild will present the Michigan premiere of Offenbach’s hilarious operetta
The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein
Thurs.-Sat. Feb. 24-26
Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, Ann Arbor
Performances at 8 pm
Credit card orders: 734-763-8587
or at Michigan Union Ticket Office, Ann Arbor
Sat., April 2, 8 pm and Sun., April 3, 2 pm
The Village Theater
50400 Cherry Hill Road, Canton, MI 48187
Credit card orders: 734-394-5460
or at Summit on the Park, 46000 Summit Pkwy, Canton
Adults: $20.00 Seniors : $17.00 Students: $15.00
Offenbach is known in America as the composer of the Can-Can dance, The Tales of Hoffmann and the Marine Hymn, but he actually invented the operetta form in the middle of the 19th century, producing a series of irreverent musicals in his own little theater, the Bouffes Parisienne. The strict government feared the barbs Of Offenbach and his writers, but public pressure eventually forced it to give Offenbach a permit to stage full length shows. The freshness and audacity of his works soon made him world famous.
The Grand Duchess, written in 1867, poked fun at all things military and was a great hit not only in Paris, but in England as well. Ironically, the Franco-Prussian war broke out three years later, and the work was banned due to the French defeat in that war. It is unfortunate that the generals could not see the wisdom of the show and avoid a useless war. Today, its message still rings loud and clear, even though presented in a light and melodic way.
The operettas of Offenbach are as fresh today as they were in their day, because their humor is irreverent and satirical, a rare commodity in musicals. In America a lack of translations that retain the wit of the originals has prevented the best of these shows from being more often produced. The Guild has produced new English versions of the most popular of Offenbach’s operettas throughout its 38 year history, and now adds The Grand Duchess to the list.
Barbara Scanlon, familiar to COG audiences for her Ruth in Pirates of Penzance and various characters in the Herbert Festival performances, stars as the love-lorn Duchess. With war impending, the Duchess a small nation is convinced to involve herself with the troops to inspire them. In doing so, she comes upon Private Fritz, a handsome but unmotivated soldier, and immediately gets a crush on him. Reveling in her authority, she promotes him to Commander in Chief of the army in order that he attain enough status to marry her. Fritz is totally oblivious of her intentions, however, and must lead the troops when the enemy arrives. He is a disaster at this, as might be expected, and a conspiracy, led by General Boum, is formed to eliminate him. Both Fritz and the conspiracy are ultimately inept enough that Gerolstein is defeated. Fritz, stripped of his title, winds up happily in the arms of his girl friend, Wanda, and all realize that in the end, military victories or losses don’t change things that much.
A parody of the military is timely in any period, and this Grand Duchess will be set at the onset of World War I. The show will be directed by its author, Thomas Petiet, with the cast and orchestra conducted by Steve Dedoes, who previously served as music director of Robinson Crusoe. Choreography will be by Patricia Petiet, and costume design is by Diane Larue. A talented cast of 24 will tread the boards at both the Mendelssohn Theater in Ann Arbor and the Village Theater in Canton.