Oscar Straus Composer
Der Tapfere Soldat (The Chocolate Soldier; operetta)
Musicology:Der tapfere Soldat is best translated as The Brave Soldier, or The Gallant Soldier. Some people began calling the operetta "Praline-Soldat" because the titular hero has a predilection for sweets, a characteristic that comes up only once in the first act. Thus, we have the unfortunate translation of Der tapfere Soldat as The Chocolate Soldier.
Der Tapfere Soldat (The Chocolate Soldier; operetta)Year: 1908
Pr. Instrument: Voice
Oscar Straus' Der tapfere Soldat was conceived primarily by Leopold Jacobson (1878 - 1945), who co-wrote the libretto with Rudolf Bernauer (1880 - 1953). Jacobson based his conception on George Bernard Shaw's (1856 - 1950) Arms and the Man, of 1894, which had for years been very popular in Vienna.
Shaw proved to be difficult in the negotiations to obtain the rights to use his play. At first, he refused, fearing that a successful operetta would overshadow his play. Eventually, Shaw gave in, but had several stipulations, among then that Jacobson use only the plot, not the dialogue, from the play and that it be made clear the operetta was "an unauthorized parody" of Arms and the Man. Also, he requested no royalties from the affair and made this fact public, further distancing himself from the project. As a result, Shaw lost a large sum of money.
The operetta opened on November 14, 1908, at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Its first run was comparatively short—only 62 performances—in part because of contemporary disturbances in the Balkans, and it quickly disappeared from the repertoire of Central European stages. However, it achieved great success in New York, where it ran for nine months beginning September 13, 1909, and in London, where a very successful run began a year later.
Jacobson and Bernauer's story revolves around Bumerli, an escaped prisoner of war who reveals to Nadina, his protector, that her fiancé, Major Spiridoff, is not the "brave soldier" she thinks he is. The battery of canons Spiridoff single-handedly captured was not loaded and its crew inept. Eventually, Nadina sees through her fiancé's façade and, not surprisingly, ends up marrying Bumerli.
Much of the success of Der tapfere Soldat stems from its most famous number, No. 2, Nadina's "Komm, komm, Held meiner Träume" (Come, come, hero of my dreams), featuring an infectious, slow waltz rhythm and spirited melody in the refrain. Straus suggests, musically, that Nadina and Bumerli belong together by making the slow waltz tempo Bumerli's rhythmic signature. This is clearly evident in his "Wenn man so könnte, wie man wollte" (If one could do as he wishes) (No. 10) and in "Pardon, Pardon, Pardon!" from the Act II finale. Perhaps most brilliant is Straus' characterization of the pompous, arrogant Alexius Spiridoff. In an ensemble in the second act, during which Spiridoff and Colonel Popoff, Nadina's father, return from the war against the Serbs, Spiridoff describes to Nadina his act of "bravery" in a martial 6/8 time. After Nadina answers Spiridoff, Popoff interrupts, singing his own praises, but in a bouncy polka rhythm, lending a sense of musical mockery to the number.
© John Palmer, Rovi