The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre
1 January, 2001
Suppé had been writing theatre music ranging from songs for Singspiele, burlesque, farce and spectaculars to short and medium-sized Operetten for the various Viennese theatres in which he had been engaged for 25 years before he was encouraged, in the wake of Strauss’s success with Die Fledermaus, to compose a full-length Operette of his own. He was supplied with a well-dosed comic-romantic libretto by Richard Genée (author of the libretto to Die Fledermaus) and “Friedrich Zell” (= Camillo Walzel), a libretto which was adapted, like Strauss’s success, from a French original, although one very different in tone: a Scribe script which had previously been set with an Auber score as La Circassienne. The resulting Fatinitza premiered at the Carltheater, Vienna on 5 January 1876.
The young lieutenant Wladimir Samoiloff (Antonie Link) has disguised himself as a girl to escape the vigilance of the fire-breathing General Kantschukoff (Wilhelm Knaack) and thus court his niece, Lydia (Hermine Meyerhoff) but, unluckily, Kantschukoff develops a passion for the disguised `Fatinitza’. Even more unluckily, Wladimir is dolled up in his disguise when the Turks invade the Russian camp, and they carry off both `girls’, Lydia and ‘Fatinitza’ to the harem of Izzet Pascha (Josef Matras). The Russians, led by the marauding journalist Julian van Golz (Karl Blasel), are obliged to head for Isaktscha to get them back. The rescue accomplished, `Fatinitza’ disappears by simply turning back into Wladimir, but Lydia is taken home by her uncle to be wed to an elderly Prince. Finally, the General agrees to cede his niece to Wladimir if the boy can produce the lusted-after Fatinitza. Nothing could be easier, and all ends happily. For the young lovers, anyway.
The rôle of Fatinitza/Wladimir provided a splendid semi-travesty rôle for a leading lady — in this case Antonie Link, who also fulfilled breeches duty in her time as Strauss’s Prinz Methusalem and Suppé’s subsequent Boccaccio — whilst top comedians Knaack, Blasel and Matras were given plenty of comical opportunities in their rôles as General, journalist and Pasha, and the colourful Turkish settings of the second act contributed an additional visual attraction. The biggest attraction, however, was the splendid score which Suppé provided for the occasion. It produced two sizeable hits — the driving march ensemble `Vörwarts mit frischem Mut’, which became one of the most popular songs of its time (so popular, indeed, that the ear-bashed Commander-in-Chief at Königsberg banned his regimental bands from playing it!), and the Pascha’s comical `Ein bissel auffrischen’ — but it also held many other delights, from Wladimir’s longing `Sie, die ich darf nie nennen’ with its infectious waltz refrain, and the two-soprano duo `Mein Herz, es zagt’ to some lovely choruses and another particularly successful ensemble, the tinkling `Silberglöckchen rufen helle’.
The immediate success of Fatinitza throughly rivalled that of Die Fledermaus. Thirty straight nights through the month of January were followed by a further eight in February, the 50th performance was passed on 20 July, the 60th on 28 August, and by the end of 1879 the Carltheater had played the show a remarkable 122 times, latterly with Regina Klein in the star rôle. The original production remained several seasons in the Carltheater repertoire, and the piece was reproduced there in 1892 with Anna von Bocskay and Knaack, in 1899 with Ludmilla Gaston starred and Louis Treumann as Izzet Pasha, in 1905, 1906, and in 1907 with Gabriele Mödl, Blasel and Richard Waldemar. In 1909 it was played at the Raimundtheater with Lotte Klein, Marthe Winternitz-Dorda and Gross in the leading rôles, and in 1912 it got a further showing at the Johann Strauss-Theater, establishing itself through repeated performances as a classic of its kind.
Within months of its first appearance, the show had been put into production in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Netherlands, Sweden and in Germany, in each case with outstanding success and as a prelude to a number of revivals.
Budapest’s first production was mounted by Andor Ger*o*ffy and the Fatinitza was his wife, playing alongside the Lydia of Etel Roth, but four years later the Népszinház mounted their version of the show (ad Jen*o* Rákosi, Lajos Evva) with Abonyiné (Wladimir), Elek Solymossy (Kantschukoff), Emilia Sziklai (Lydia) and János Kápolnai (Julian). It proved good for an initial 20 nights and a revival (29 November 1882).
In London, H S Leigh’s English version was staged at the vast Alhambra Theatre with Jessie Greville, Adelaide Newton and Pattie Laverne all taking turns at the lead rôle in an undercast and under-successful three-month run, whilst in America, after an initial 1878 mounting in San Francisco (ad Percy Wilson) with Mathilde Cottrelly making her English-singing début as Wladimir alongside another German, Max Freeman, Harry Gates (Julian) and Marie Prescott (Lydia), there were almost simultaneous English- and German-language versions produced in New York in 1879. Boston followed up swiftly with its version (ad Sylvester Baxter, J B Bradford) with Adelaide Phillips starred (2 June), and the show soon got up speed. In the next 12 months, no less than five different productions of Fatinitza visited Broadway, the two most substantial of which featured Cottrelly and the Boston Ideal Opera Company’s Mme Phillips as their heroes. Fatinitza went on to become a standard item in the American Operette repertoire, repeated time and again in productions from one side of the country to the other, and one canny company even invented a musequel, The Pasha, fabricated by revamping Suppé’s later success, Die Afrikareise, and changing the names of the characters to those of Fatinitza. The original show was seen in New York as late as 1904 (28 December, ad Harry B Smith) when Fritzi Scheff appeared in the central rôle of a Charles Dillingham revival.
A French version (ad Félix Coveliers) was produced at Brussels’ Fantaisies Parisiennes (28 December 1878) with enormous success, but when the Belgian manager Eugène Humbert arranged to bring his hit show to Paris’s Théâtre des Nouveautés, trouble struck. Mme Scribe took out a court order to stop this unauthorised remake of her husband’s piece being staged in Paris. Humbert, however, found a way round the problem. Since Scribe’s text had itself been an adaptation, drawn from Louvet’s novel Faublas, he simply ordered a new text, drawn from Faublas, to be written around Suppé’s score. Mlle Preziosi (the Brussels Fatinitza), Jeanne Nadaud (Lydia, replacing Blanche Roosevelt, dropped in rehearsal because of her villainous French accent which meant another lawsuit), Ernest Vois (Moulinot, ie Julian), Paul Ginet (Tschatchichef) and Pradeau (Makouli, a slave merchant) headed 60 spectacular and spectacularly successful performances of Alfred Delacour and Victor Wilder’s recognisable but distinctly different Fatinitza at Brasseur’s Théâtre des Nouveautés. Marguerite Ugalde took a turn three seasons later at the now-famous star rôle.
Australia saw its first Fatinitza in 1881, with Eva Davenport starred alongside Miss E A Lambert (Lydia), C H Templeton (Kantschukoff) and Howard Vernon (Julian), and Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Argentina, Poland and Mexico all staged versions of Fatinitza which was even translated into and staged in Croatian and Estonian.
In spite of the huge vogue it enjoyed in the years after its production, the show faded from the repertoire as newer products of the blossoming Austrian Operette stage appeared and, when it reappeared in Munich in 1950, it was in one of those `revised’ versions so dear to German houses, German publishers and German percentage-takers. And today, whilst second-rate pieces by the handful of buzz-name 19th century writers win intermittent revivals, Fatinitza – internationally one of the most successful Operetten of the 19th century — is no longer played.
Hungary: Budai Színkör 26 May 1876; Germany: Friedrich-Wilhelmstädtisches Theater 16 September 1876; UK: Alhambra Theatre 20 June 1878; France: Théâtre des Nouveautés 15 March 1879; USA: California Theater, San Francisco 21 October 1878, Germania Theater (Ger) 14 April 1879, 5th Avenue Theater (Eng) 22 April 1879; Australia: Novelty Theatre, Melbourne 19 March 1881
Recording: Selection (Amiga, EP)