“La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein” or “The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein,” is an opera bouffe in three acts, the music by Jacques Offenbach and the words by Halévy and Meilhac. It was first produced at the Variétés, Paris, April 12, 1867.
The Grand Duchess. Fritz, a recruit. Prince Paul, a discarded suitor of the Duchess. Baron Puck. General Boum, in command of the army. Baron Grog. Nepomuc, an aide-de-camp. Wanda, a country girl. Iza, Amelia, Olga, maids of honor to the Grand Duchess. Charlotte, Lords and ladies of the court, pages, ushers, soldiers, vivandieres and country girls.
The story is laid in the imaginary duchy of Gerolstein, in 1720. The Grand Duchess, who has been brought up by her tutor and prime minister, Baron Puck, to have her own way, is a charming though veritable tyrant. She has been betrothed to Prince Paul but does not find him to her liking and, owing to her being in an unhappy state of mind over the affair, the Baron gets up a war to amuse her. She decides to review her troops. There is a roll of drums and the cry is started that the enemy is advancing but it turns out to be her Highness.
This visit proves fatal, for she falls desperately in love with the handsome soldier Fritz, whose main passions in life are his love for the pretty Wanda and his hatred of General Boum. The Duchess immediately makes Fritz a corporal and as she grows more and more delighted with him, he is promoted rapidly to sergeant, lieutenant and captain. Finally, thoroughly to spite the General, she makes him commander-in-chief and sends him to conquer the enemy. This he easily accomplishes by the original device of making the whole opposing army drunk, his artillery consisting of 300,000 well-filled bottles.
When he returns, crowned with victory, the delighted Duchess finds herself more than ever enamored and hints at the possibility of his receiving other honors. But she finds him a great blockhead in the matter, for he shows that he prefers his Wanda to such distinctions and incurs great displeasure by asking permission to marry her at once.
This proves the death-blow to the Duchess’ devotion and she gets up a conspiracy to assassinate the victorious officer on his return from the wedding ceremony. When everything is ready for the bloody deed, the Duchess changes her mind, which is now busied with a new affair with the Baron Grog. Her heart-history bids fair ever to be ill-starred, however, for this latest romance is blighted by the news that her beloved has a wife and four children. She becomes philosophic and decides to marry Prince Paul after all. To quote her own words, ” What can one do? If you can’t have those you could love, you must try to love those you can have.”
In place of assassinating Fritz, she devises the lesser punishment of noisy serenades and hurries him off on a false alarm to fight the enemy. The enemy proves to be a jealous husband who mistakes him for another man and gives him a caning. Boum is made happy by the restoration of his plume, his emblem of military distinction, Puck is reinstated in the favor from which he had fallen, Grog is sent home safe to his family and Prince Paul is received again as a prospective bridegroom.
” The Grand Duchess” is a notably excellent type of the opera bouffe. Among the numbers worthy of mention are General Boum’s ” Pif! Paf! Pouf!” song ; the Duchess’ ” Ah ! que j’aime les militaires ” ( “Ah how I love the military”); the duet for Fritz and the Grand Duchess, ” Ah, c’est un fameux régiment ” (” Ah this a famous regiment “) ; Prince Paul’s reading from the Dutch Gazette, “Pour épouser une princesse” (” To take as bride a princess”) ; the sabre song of the Grand Duchess ; the rondo of Fritz, describing his exploits ; the declaration of the Duchess, “Dites Lui” (” Say to him”); Boum’s ballad, “Max était soldat de Fortune” (” Max was a soldier of fortune “) ; the wedding chorus; the song of the Duchess. “Légende du verre” (” Legend of the glass “) and Fritz’s complaint, “Eh bein, Altesse, me voilà ” (” Ah well, your grace, I’m here”).