The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein
Music by Jacques Offenbach: Book and lyrics by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.
Théâtre des Variétés, Paris - 12 April, 1867
Théâtre Français, New York - 24 September, 1867
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane 18 November, 1867 (Book and lyrics adapted by Charles Lamb Kennedy
One of a series of great Offenbach operettas, this is the hilarious tale of a sultry grande Dame who rules the tiny Duchy of Gerolstein. Having a keen eye for attractive young men, she promotes a certain Private Fritz to the rank of General in no time at all. But Fritz has a fiancée, and ideas of his own - and in the end the Grand Duchess has to settle for the absurdly foppish, but politically expedient, Prince Paul. Colourful and amusing characters, lots of comedy, and irresistible music.
Somewhere in Gérolstein, on a fine battle's eve, the grand duchy's army is lolling about singing and dancing to optimistic soldierly choruses. Whilst the other soldiers drink and gamble and make the most of the local peasant girls, one particularly well-endowed young private called Fritz is saying fond farewells to his pretty sweetheart, Wanda . The lackadaisical attitude of his men in the face of the enemy infuriates the brimstone-breathing General Boum, Gérolstein's commander-in-chief. The General is a man who lives for war, and who can be relied upon to burst into battlestance at the slightest provocation.
Fighting, however, is not Boum's only preoccupation. Like every soldier, he does have a soft spot for the ladies, and the lady after whom he lechers at the moment is none other than Fritz's Wanda. As a result, he snatches every opportunity to take out his dislike and envy of Fritz under the guise of military orders. Tonight, he announces, the Grand Duchess of Gérolstein will be coming to look over her army. Her tent is to be erected in the centre of the camp so, while the other soldiers are marched away, Fritz is ordered to stand sentry guard on the empty piece of ground intended for the tent. No sooner is he left alone than Wanda returns, anxious to make the most of their moments together. Fritz does his best to stick to the rules and neither speak nor move from his post, but his feelings finally get the better of him and he unbends sufficiently to indulge in a kiss or two. Alas, the young lovers are caught in the act by General Boum who has set up the whole affair with the sole object of catching Fritz at something which can be counted as a military crime. But before the General can take much revenge, shots are heard in the distance. It is the enemy cannon! Boum's ears prick up like a foxhound's and Wanda faints.
As it happens, it is not the enemy approaching, but merely the camp sentries firing at the Grand Duchess's court chamberlain, the Baron Puck, who has walked through the gates without giving the password. Puck is a close crony of the General and the two of them have together cooked up mighty plans for controlling the government of Gérolstein. The young Grand Duchess has, up till now, been kept sweetly amused with toys and books and other such diversions, thus allowing her chief executives to get on with running the country as they wished but, now that she has reached the age of twenty, a different kind of distraction is needed if they are to keep their monarch from interfering in state business.
One of Puck's recent ideas was the provision of a husband for his sovereign. It seemed like a fine idea and the husband chosen by the plotting pair was the diffident Prince Paul, son of the neighbouring Elector of SteisStein-Steis-Laper-Bottmoll-Schorstenburg. To their irritation, the ruse did not work, for the young monarch remained indifferent to Prince Paul and not only refused to wed him but declined even to receive his father's representative, Baron Grog. Following this failure, Puck has switched to a new stratagem. He would interest the young lady in the army. Not individually, of course, but as a colourful unit, a dazzling plaything made up of real men. It is to this end that the evening's visit has been planned and a set-up arranged to allow the Duchess the martial thrill of performing the regiment's song as a duet with General Boum.
Drums and bugles announce the arrival of the Grand Duchess and no sooner has she begun to review her troops than it becomes very clear that the army holds many more attractions for the young woman than ever did Prince Paul. As she continues down the ranks, she finds they hold one very particular attraction. Her eye alights on Fritz. It is a shame, she feels, that such a fine soldier should be only a Private, so she promotes him on the spot to Corporal and then to Sergeant.
Puck is distinctly worried by such a purposeful mark of favour and Boum is particularly irritated that such a favour should have fallen on the detested Fritz, who is soon introducing Wanda to his sovereign and being promoted once more, this time to Lieutenant. When it comes to the time for the regimental song, the Duchess is delighted to sing but, instead of the eager Boum, she chooses Fritz to make up the duet and, when Boum protests at such lèse majesté, she spitefully retaliates by promoting the Lieutenant to Captain
The young Duchess is not at all sure what the feelings are that she is experiencing. All she knows is that she is supremely anxious to see the handsome Fritz dressed up in his new Captain's uniform and yet she is not at all impressed when poor Prince Paul comes to find her, dressed up in a bridegroom's outfit with the hope that she might take the hint. Clearly, all men are not the same.
Paul is now quite desperate. He has been hanging around Gérolstein for six months, spending all his allowance and being ignored, and some of the nastier newspapers have taken to making slighting remarks about it in their personal columns. The Grand Duchess brushes him off with the excuse that she is far too busy to marry him and she turns happily to her new preoccupation with things military, calling together her chief men to listen to the plan of battle which General Boum has evolved.
Fritz, who has been elected to stand bodyguard on the Duchess, laughs out loud at the General's complicated pincer plan, provoking a near explosion from the choleric Boum. He is furious that this lowly soldier should be allowed to interfere in matters of such importance, but the Duchess is determined to hear Fritz out and she promptly creates him a General and a Baron, thus giving him sufficient rank to be heard in council.
Fritz's idea of battle is to wade in and thrash them and, to Boum's horror, the Duchess blithely agrees that this is the way to organise the forthcoming battle. When Boum refuses, she simply removes him from his position as commander-in-chief and replaces him with Fritz. The army gather and the Duchess confers on her new Commander the honour of carrying into battle her own father's sword and, as Boum, Puck and Paul grumble furiously in the background, the army marches off to war under Fritz's command.
The war is over and the Grand Duchess's maids of honour wait impatiently for the return of their favourite lovers. Prince Paul is still hanging around the palace trying to get some attention but he hasn't a chance on this day of all days, for General Fritz is returning to Gérolstein crowned with victory in battle. Coming before the Duchess, he returns to her the sword of her father and, at her urging, gives an account of the battle. His strategy was to take to war twenty thousand bottles of wine and arrange that the enemy should capture the depot. The next morning, when the entire opposing army was suffering from a ghastly hangover, he was able to order the attack and win a famous victory without a drop of blood being shed.
When the official business is done, the Duchess, to the horror of Prince Paul and his supporters, demands to see Fritz alone. In the time since their first encounter, she has come to understand the feelings which have been stirring inside her and she is about to make some tentative opening moves. As Commander-in-Chief, she decrees, Fritz will be given an apartment in the palace—the one in the right wing—and then, she must tell him, one of her court ladies has fallen in love with him.
Being of a certain density, Fritz fails to understand that the Duchess is speaking, in a thinly veiled fashion, of her own feelings. Weighing everything up, he decides that he will do better to stick to his first love, and he determines to ask the Duchess for permission to marry Wanda.
Boum and Puck are horrified when they hear about the apartment in the right wing. It is the old royal mistress's room, connected to the ruling monarch's chambers by a secret corridor. Things arc getting serious. Their aspirations have suffered enough at the hands of the wretched Fritz and they decide to combine with Prince Paul in a conspiracy to rid themselves of the troublesome lad .
They are amazed when their conspiracy gets an impromptu fourth member in the person of the rejected Duchess herself. Fritz is in the chapel of the palace going through a quick wedding with Wanda. From the ceremony he will proceed to his apartments, and there the conspirators will lie in wait for him to bring his dazzling career to a dingy end.
Whilst the wedding dance goes on, the conspirators gather in the right wing, on the very spot where an earlier ancestor met his bloody fate (`Ce Qu'On A Fait'). The Duchess hides behind a curtain as Puck, Paul, Grog and Népomuc lead on a whole band of murderous conspirators (`Sortez, Sortez') but she emerges to give a last minute instruction that, although he may be cut to pieces, Fritz's handsome face must not be touched. But wait! Who is this other handsome face amongst the conspirators? It is Baron Grog, the emissary from Prince Paul's father whom the Duchess has always refused to admit to her presence.
Her Highness decides that she will grant him his private audience now, on the spot, and she sends everyone else away while she winsomely attempts to persuade Grog that he would do much better to abandon his present master and come to her court instead. Grog diplomatically regrets that he cannot. Of course, were she to wed Prince Paul, such a transfer would be virtually automatic. The Duchess's head is quite dizzy with schemes, but it is at least clear to her that there is now no need to have Fritz murdered and, to the vast disappointment of Boum and Puck, she calls the assassination off. She cannot have a murder on her wedding day. Her wedding day? Yes, she has decided that, at long last, she will wed Prince Paul and, to make up for General Boum's disappointment at missing out on Fritz's death, she freely permits him to take his revenge on the young man in any way he likes—as long as it is nothing quite so permanent.
Their wedding solemnised, Fritz and Wanda are escorted to their apartment by the lords and ladies of the court and are bid a knowing goodnight by the cream of Gérolstein society. Left alone with his new bride, Fritz starts to pare away her maidenly modesty but, each time he gets near to embracing his wife, he is interrupted by noisy serenading from the street outside until finally Boum, Puck, Grog and Paul burst in to urge him to head for Roc à Pic with all haste at the orders of his monarch. Fritz quickly dons his Commander's uniform and, leaving his new little wife to her own devices, dashes off to the rendezvous.
At the army encampment, the Grand Duchess joins her men and her newly-pledged husband in a rousing drinking song and listens with enjoyment as General Boum relates the trick he has played on Fritz. The General has for some time been paying court to a married lady at Roc à Pic but her husband has discovered the affair and, Boum has learned, is tonight laying in wait to trap his wife's aristocratic seducer as he comes to his rendezvous.
Fritz has been sent into an ambush and, when the brave Commander-inChief arrives back at the camp, he is a bruised and battered sight, his clothes rent and the famous sabre bent. The Duchess makes this unseemly behaviour an excuse to strip Fritz, one by one, of all the honours she had previously loaded on him, until he is back once more to the rank of private soldier. At that point Fritz promptly asks for and receives his discharge from the army. He is free, at last, to go to his Wanda.
The Duchess now has a bundle of offices and honours to bestow and she decides that the recipient of all these shall be the handsome Baron Grog. When Grog thanks her on behalf of his absent wife and children, the Duchess has to avow herself beaten. Boum is restored to his position at the head of the army, the twisted sabre is returned to Baron Puck, Fritz (who has a yearning to learn to read and write) is appointed a village schoolmaster, and Baron Grog is sent safely back to Steis-Stein-Steis-Laper-BottmollSchorstenburg to inform his master that the Grand Duchess of Gérolstein
and Prince Paul are happily married. If a girl can't have what she likes, then she must like what she can have. That way everything can end happily.
Adapted from Ganzl's Book of the Musical Theatre
6 female, 11 male (some only singing with chorus)
- La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein
- Prince Paul of Steis-Stein-Steis-Laper-Bottmoll-Schorstenburg
- General Boum, commander-in-chief of the Gérolstein army
- Fritz, a private soldier
- Wanda, his sweetheart
- Baron Puck
- Baron Grog
- Népomuc, an aide-de-camp
- Charlotte, Olga, Amélie, Iza, etc.
- Tournons et valsons - Chorus of Soldiers
- O mon Fritz / Allez, jeunes filles - Wanda and Fritz
- Pif, Paf, Pouf - General Boum
- Me Voici! Me Voici! - Wanda, Fritz
- Entrance of the Grande Duchess - Portez Armes - Chorus
- Vous aimez le danger / Ah! Que j'aime les militaires - Duchesse
- Ah! C'est un fameux régiment - Duchesse
- Chronique de la Gazette de Hollande: Pour Epouser une Princesse - Paul
- Ils vont tous partir - Chorus of soldiers
- Voici le Sabre de Mon Père - Duchesse
- Enfin la guerre est terminée / Je t'ai sur mon coeur / Ah! Lettre adorée - Maids
- Après le Victoire - Fritz
- En Très Bon Ordre - Fritz
- Oui, Géneral / Dites-lui qu'on l'a remarque distingué - Chorus
- Ne devinez-vous pas'/`Max etait soldat de fortune - Boum, Paul, Puck
- Logeons-la donc - Boum, Paul, Puck
- Nous amenons la jeune femme - Lords and Ladies
- Bonne nuit, Monsieur - Puck, Lords and Ladies
- On peut être aimable - Fritz
- Ouvrez, Ouvrez - Chorus
- A cheval, à cheval / notre auguste maîtresse - Puck, Grog and Paul
- Au repas comme à la bataille - Chorus
- Légende du verre: Il était un de mes a ïeux - Duchesse
- Voici revenir - Fritz
- Enfin j'ai repris la panache
flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, percussion, harp, strings.
Instrumentation: Professional Version:
2 flutes, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, 3 percussion, strings
Adaptation for amateur performance by John Grimsey, Phil Park and
Professional Version: English by Geoffrey Dunn
Vocal Score and Libretto on hire only