Opera: Fatinitza – Franz von Suppé

Fatinitza, a comic opera in three acts with music by Franz von Suppé and text by Zell and Genée, was first produced in Vienna, Jan. 5, 1876.

The opera opens in a Russian camp on the lower Danube. Vladimir, a Circassian cavalry lieutenant, is wakened from his dream of Lydia, a girl whom he has met but whose surname he does not know, and is ordered to act as the officer of the day. He is young, good-looking and very popular with the regiment and the men are soon chaffing him about his conquests. The story comes out that while recently masquerading as a girl and calling himself Fatinitza he has met Count Timofey Kantchukoff, the Russian general, who has fallen violently in love with him. As the soldiers make merry, there is brought into the camp, as a spy, one Julian Hardy, an American war correspondent, in whom is combined newspaper enterprise, much fun and good nature and a gift for extricating his friends from dilemmas.

The monotony of camp life is beginning to pall upon the lively fellows and Vladimir’s recountal of his success in feminine attire suggests amateur theatricals, which are speedily arranged, with the fair Fatinitza as leading lady. While the company has retired to dress for rehearsal, General Kantchukoff arrives unexpectedly and the first object of his displeasure is the journalist, who escapes punishment by means of his passport and his ready tongue. Other actors stroll in fantastically dressed but the appearance of Fatinitza, the old bachelor’s first and only love, diverts his wrath from them. In order to be left alone with her, the General orders the men off to drill but Vladimir, who has been drinking allash, is coy about receiving the kiss of betrothal. The love-making is interrupted by the arrival of the General’s niece, the Princess Lydia, whose incipient affair with Vladimir has caused him to be transferred to the outposts by her wary relative. Vladimir, who learns his sweetheart’s rank for the first time is fearful lest the lady may penetrate his disguise but the resourceful Hardy smooths over the remarkable resemblance by explaining that Fatinitza is the sister of the young man Lydia has seen and loved. Lydia naturally is much interested in the girl and when the General commends his sweetheart to her, she offers to share her sleigh with her. Scarcely has the General left to inspect his troops when the camp is surprised by a band of Bashi-Bazouks, who capture the Princess, Vladimir and Hardy, the last being left to arrange a ransom. The doting General will not allow the troops to be fired upon lest they hit Fatinitza.

The second act shifts to the harem of Izzet Pasha, where his four wives are discovered deftly applying cosmetics. When the lord and master arrives, they quarrel for his kiss, but he insists that ” order must be maintained even in a harem.” His information that he is about to increase their number to five, by the addition of a beautiful Christian maiden captured by Hassan Bey, is received with disapproval. As he is cleverly reconciling his boasted reform sentiments with this course, Vladimir, still in woman’s attire, is brought in with Lydia. The captives soon are cheered by the arrival of Hardy and the Russian sergeant Steipann to arrange for their release. The Pasha announces himself as ready to give up the lovely Fatinitza, but is determined to keep Lydia. Steipann is despatched to carry the Pasha’s terms to the General and is also intrusted with a secret message from Julian telling him how he can surprise the Turks with his army. Vladimir reveals the secret of his true sex to the quartet of wives and they are happy to aid in his escape and especially in that of their rival, Lydia. Meantime, the Pasha and Hardy are ” getting on ” famously and the host provides elaborate entertainment, which includes a Turkish shadow pantomime. While this is in progress, the Russian army comes success-fully to the rescue.

The third act takes places in the General’s summer palace at Odessa, where Lydia and the four wives of her former captor are discovered. Lydia declares spiritedly that she will not marry a certain ” ancient ruin,” i. e., a crippled old friend that her uncle has picked out for her. Hardy brings in the favored Vladimir and so adroitly smooths matters over, that the testy old General himself directs the wedding procession into the church. The old fellow, who has been ever in quest of his lost Fatinitza, is overjoyed to hear that his agents have at last found her but his joy is changed to disgust when a veiled negress bearing that name is brought in. The conspirators terminate his only love-affair by having conveyed to him a letter which leads him to believe that the real Fatinitza has died of grief over her separation from him. The General blesses the union of his niece and the brother of his faithful love and all ends as comfortably as possible.

The principal numbers of this popular light opera are in the first act, called “At the Outposts.” They are Vladimir’s song, ” Lost is the dream that bound me; ” the reporter’s descriptive song, ” With my note-book in my hands ; ” the General’s pompous expression as he enters, ” Thousand fifes ! and drums and cannon ! ” Lydia’s sleighing-song; the chorus of Bashi-Bazouks ” Now up, away, no sound betray.” In the second or “Kismet” act the principal numbers are the primping chorus in the harem ; the duet of Vladimir and Lydia, “I fear to think what is her destiny ; ” the Kismet duet, by Pasha and the reporter ; Hardy’s song, “My Native Land” and the effective bell sextet. In the last act, called ” Chimes of Peace ” the most conspicuous numbers are Lydia’s “Bell aria ” and the trio of Vladimir, Lydia and Hardy.