A Comic Opera in 2 Acts, 3 Scenes.
Book and lyrics by Rida Johnson Young. Music by Victor Herbert.
Produced under the direction of Jacques
Dances arranged by Pauline Verhoeven.
Settings by Julius Dowe, Theodore Reisig.
Costumes by Will R. Barnes.
Orchestra under the direction of Gaetano Merola. (Orchestrations by Victor Herbert.) Produced by Oscar Hammerstein.
New York Theatre, Broadway - November 7, 1910, Closed 4 March, 1911 (136 perfs)
Originally produced in New York, this operetta became Victor Herbert's greatest success. Set in New Orleans in 1780, it tells how Captain Richard Warrington is commissioned to unmask and capture a notorious French pirate calling himself 'Bras Pique'- and how he is helped and hindered by a high-spirited runaway Contessa Marietta. The score includes many well-known songs, the most notable being "Ah, Sweet Mystery Of life" which was sung by Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in the popular film version.
It is early morning and, as the night watchman passes on his way, the square begins to come alive with the vendors of flowers and fruit, tropical birds and sugar cane, street sweepers, fortune tellers and a group of convent pupils on their way to school. Amongst the early risers this morning is Étienne Grandet, the son of the colony's acting governor and a great favourite with the local girls.
Étienne has just returned from a trip to France, and the girls anxiously bring him up to date with the news: the dreadful pirate Bras Priqué has been abroad, terrorising the merchant ships attempting to serve New Orleans, and now the town fountain is haunted by the ghost of one of his victims. From the depths of the dried-up fountain a mysterious melody has been heard — even the priest has heard it.
Étienne laughs aside the suggestion of a ghost and he also laughs silently at the tales of Bras Priqué for, unknown to all but his slave and mistress, the quadroon Adah, that frightful buccaneer is none other than Étienne himself. In search of both adventure and personal gain he has led a group of disaffected ruffians in plundering the sea coast whilst using his father's position to protect himself from suspicion.
Local curiosity is truly aroused when a strange group of rugged-looking men march into town. A mixture of Canadian woodsmen, Tennessee mountain men, Kentucky farmers and Indians, dressed in skins and furs and old uniforms, they are led by the stalwart Captain Dick Warrington and his Irish lieutenant, Sir Harry Blake. Captain Dick's Infantry, as they call themselves, are, with the consent of the King of France, out to capture Bras Priqué, for the pirate has been attacking the English ships which provision their settlements. But they do not think to find their prey in New Orleans amongst the fashionable French. They have merely come to present themselves and their credentials to the Governor and to get his signature on the warrant for the pirate's arrest.
They have also come for another and more tender reason. A bride ship is due to berth, bringing a group of poor French girls, the casket girls, disowned by the King of France and destined to be wives to the colonists. The men have spied the girls as their ship watered at Mozambique and they hope that among them they may each find a wife.
The first part of their mission is balked, for the Governor has departed for France and Etienne's father is ruling in his place. The temporary Governor is a bloated, somnolent idiot who has become know to the people as Monsieur By-and-By because of his inability to make a decision. He is also a cowardly party to Étienne's double identity, taking half the proceeds of his depredations as hush money, yet refusing to acknowledge even a sleeping part in the operation. He is perfectly aware that Étienne has the real Governor imprisoned on a Caribbean island as part of his plan eventually to turn Louisiana into a dictatorship under his own control.
Governor Grandet comes to the market place to oversee the arrival of the casket girls. The men gather round excitedly as the brides arrive, and hurry to engage them in conversation. One girl, a plain and gawky creature called Lizette, finds herself ignored until Simon O'Hara, Captain Dick's Yiddish low-comic servant, takes a shine to her. Grandet is alarmed at being asked to sign Captain Dick's warrant, but Étienne is amused at the situation and he elaborately offers his hospitality to the Americans.
If they had stayed in the square a moment longer, they would all have heard the ghost. From the urn of the fountain comes a silvery voice with a fragment of song and an instant later a very unghostly head appears. The voice comes from a diminutive Italian girl who describes herself as 'Naughty Marietta'. Marietta was one of the casket girls, but she ran away from the ship at Mozambique rather than be married off to some uncouth colonist, and made her way alone to New Orleans.
She dallies too long over her song and is discovered but, fortunately, her discoverer is Dick whom she already knows. When he and his men encountered the bride ship at Mozambique they had exchanged words and looks and Marietta counts on him, as a friend, to help her to remain hidden. Dick is reluctant to get involved. Women are not a part of his life and Marietta's flirtatious ways trouble him, but he arranges for her to pose as the missing son of the Italian singer and puppeteer, Rudolfo, and to work in the marionette theatre as a boy.
Before she leaves with her new 'father', Marietta turns to Dick and repeats
the melody which she had earlier sung from the fountain. It has been foretold
that she shall only lose her heart to the man who can complete this melody
which came to her in a dream. Would he care to try? Dick refuses roughly
and is irritated to catch himself unconsciously whistling the unfinished
tune minutes later.
Lizette has so far drawn a blank with the men of New Orleans but she doesn't show any signs of accepting Simon, until he stages a fine piratical piece of braggadocio to impress her. Adah is suffering more deeply for she senses that Étienne is cooling towards her, and she attempts to read the future of her love in the cards.
Rudolfo brings his little 'son' to sing in the square and Marietta carries off her act convincingly in front of Étienne. Then the Lieutenant Governor arrives on the scene with alarming news: a dispatch has come from the King of France offering 10,000 francs reward for the recovery of the Contessa d'Altena who has run away from her family and is known to have exchanged places with a casket girl and sailed for the colonies. The Contessa has the habit of singing an unfinished melody. Étienne tries the tune and the populace immediately recognise it — it is the ghost's tune. The ghost and the missing casket girl must be the countess.
Sir Harry Blake comes on the scene and spies Marietta. Before Dick can stop him, he has spilled the beans. Why, surely that is one of the casket girls, dressed as a boy? Etienne immediately seizes Marietta, but she refuses to admit her identity. She agrees that she is no boy, but insists equally that she is not the missing Contessa. A fight between Dick's followers and Etienne's guards seems to threaten, but Governor Grandet, once again, will not take firm action and, eventually, the girl runs off with Rudolfo.
Marietta spends her time learning from Rudolfo how to work the marionettes, but she finds that Étienne will not let her go so easily. He is convinced that she is the Contessa, but he is also attracted to her and he persuades her that she should come to the quadroon ball, a gay but louche local version of the Saturnalia, where he hopes to make her his own. She is reluctant, for Dick has warned her that these occasions are dangerous and immoral, but when she thinks that Dick has been paying attentions to Adah she promptly agrees to go. She will not attend as Étienne's partner, but she will be there.
The ball is a vibrant, highly-coloured affair, peopled by the most swaggering members of the creole establishment, gambling, dicing and drinking, and womanising. Lizette is there, still in search of a husband since Simon, who has been appointed to the post of whipping boy (with no whipping) to the Governor, has now got the idea that he can do better for himself. He is going to find the end to Marietta's dream song and win himself a genuine Contessa.
When Marietta arrives she is taken aback by the licence of the ball, and when Étienne steps in swiftly to claim her she asks to be taken home. Then she sees Dick arriving. He had said he would not attend, and she is sure that he has come to see Adah. She will not believe that he has come with the idea of protecting her and she proudly sweeps off to the dance floor on Étienne's arm.
Lizette makes a play for the Governor in the hope of arousing Simon's jealousy but, although the Governor proves to be quite ready for a flirtation, the ploy fails when Simon refuses to take the bait. Etienne has more serious matters for his father's consideration. Since Marietta is undoubtedly the wealthy and titled Italian Contessa, it is imperative that he takes her as his wife. With the political and financial advantages thus achieved, their plan for a Louisiana republic will be greatly aided and their coffers filled.
When he proposes marriage, Marietta asks him what he intends to do with Adah and she is appalled to hear Etienne declare that he will sell his slave to the highest bidder. Leaving him, she finds Dick, sad amongst the gaiety of the ball and aware that he is in the clutches of emotions which are new to him, but she has no time to answer him for Etienne appears and loudly announces to the assembled company that he is going to auction Adah. The broken-hearted quadroon, seeing that she is likely to be sold to an old and ugly Indian, appeals to Dick to help her and, to Marietta's jealous disbelief, Dick tops the auction.
Taken by fury, Marietta leaves Dick and, announcing herself as the Contessa d'Altena, publicly plights herself to Etienne. Realising that her anger will pass, Étienne determines to make the most of the moment and demands that the marriage take place immediately. The quadroon girls hurry away to deck the bride out in suitable splendour but Adah remains. Dick tells her she is a free woman, and she gratefully returns his gift. She can stop the wedding. If he tears Étienne Grandet's right sleeve he will find his true name tattooed there — Bras Priqué.
After Simon has entertained with an incidental song congratulating himself on his cushy new position, Dick goes into action. He exposes Etienne as the pirate but, to his amazement, finds himself unable to take the miscreant prisoner. Simon is the Grandet family's whipping boy and, by the law of the land, liable to punishment on behalf of the family for any of their misdeeds. The squealling servant is grabbed by the governmental guards and, with Lizette wailing in his wake, dragged away.
Marietta appears, dressed for her wedding, and hears the truth of the situation
from Adah. She refuses to wed Étienne and, in spite of the Governor's
threat to enclose her in a convent, defies him. Locked in a room, pounding
at the door, she suddenly hears a voice outside. It is her own dream song
and the voice is Dick's. He appears at the window and soon the two are
in each other's arms.
Etienne discovers them but, before he can take any action, Captain Dick's infantry appear. They have released Simon from prison and they are hot on the trail of Étienne and his pirates. But the ball does not end in a battle. Étienne gives Dick best over Marietta and, as the lovers join in another reprise of their song, the pirates are allowed to escape.
3 female, 7 male
- Captain Richard Warrington, an American
- Simon O'Hara, his servant
- Sir Harry Blake, an Irish adventurer
- Lieutenant Governor Grandet
- Étienne Grandet, his son
- Rudolfo, an Italian street musician, keeper of the marionette theatre Florenze, the Governor's secretary
- Marietta d'Altena
- Adah, a quadroon, slave of Étienne
- Lizette, a casket girl
Manuele, Nanette, Felice, Fanchon, Graziella, Francesca, etc.
(in order of appearance):
- Simon O'Hara, Captain Dick's servant: HARRY COOPER.
- Etienne Grandet, son of Lieutenant Governor Grandet, who is also the famous buccaneer, "Bras Pique": EDWARD MARTINDEL.
- Lieutenant Governor Grandet: WILLIAM FREDERICK.
- Sir Harry Blake, an Irish adventurer, friend to Captain Dick: RAYMOND J. BLOOMER.
- Rudolfo, keeper of a Marionette Theatre: James S. Murray.
- Florenze, secretary to the Governor: Howard Morgan.
- Manuelo, a pirate: William Mack.
- Night Watchman: Eugene Roder.
- Indian: Thomas Reynolds.
- East Indian: Bert Leslie.
- Knife Grinder: Philip Hahn.
- Marietta D'Altena: EMMA TRENTINI.
- Lizette, a Casquette girl: Kate Elinore.
- Adah, a quadroon slave of Etienne Grandet: MARIA DUCHENE.
- Nanette, a flower girl: Louise Aichel.
- Felice, a flower girl: Blanche Lipton.
- Fanchon: Vera DeRosa.
- Graziella, an Italian girl: Sylvia Loti.
- Franchesca, an Italian girl: Myrtle Randall.
- Captain Warrington: ORVILLE HARROLD.
- Quadroon Belles: Misses von Nichols, Malli, Phelan, Baldwin, Broughton, Netta, Wood, Hathaway, Lee, Johnson, Nelson, Noethinger.
- Spanish Girls: Misses Ricardio, Raymond, Aichel, DeRosa, Griffin, Rice.
- San Domingo Girls: Misses Norton, Irland, Marlotte, Hamilton, Netta, DeVere.
- French Girls: Misses Lipton, Lloyd, Moore, Olcott, Holcomb, Aubin.
Flower Girls, Quadroons, Dancers, Captain Dick's Adventurers, Pirates, Street Sweepers, Mexicans, Spaniards, Indians.
Scenes and Settings
The Place D'Armes. New Orleans, 1780.
Scene 1: The Marionette Theatre.
Scene 2: Ball Room of the Jeunesse Dorée Club.
- Opening Chorus -
(Vendors, Street Sweepers, Flower Girls)
- Tramp, Tramp, Tramp - Captain Warrington, Chorus
- Taisez-Vous -
- Naughty Marietta - Marietta
- It Never, Never Can Be Love -
Marietta, Captain Warrington
- If I Were Anybody Else But Me -
Simon O'Hara, Casquette Girl
- 'Neath the Southern Moon (For Thee) -
- Italian Street Song - Marietta, Chorus
- Finale Act I
- The Marionette Song -
- (You) Marry a Marionette -
- New Orleans Jeunesse Dorée -
- Opening of the Ball - (Loves of New Orleans) - Ensemble
- (The Sweet) By and By - Lizette
- Live for Today -
Marietta, Adah, Captain Warrington, Etienne Grandet
- I'm Falling
in Love with Someone -
- It's Pretty Soft For Simon -
Simon O'Hara, Chorus
- Dream Melody (Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life) -
Marietta, Captain Warrington
- Finale Act 2 - Ensemble
flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, percussion, harp, strings
Vocal Score and Libretto available on hire only
Revision for amateur performance: adaptation by Ronald Hanmer, book and lyrics adapted by Phil Park