In Two Weddings, One Bride, composer and pianist Robert Andrew Greene has created a “jukebox operetta” from beloved songs by Strauss, Offenbach, Lehár and Kálmán and an exotic and “totally ridiculous” story featuring identical twins penned by the 19th century French composer Charles Lecocq.
Ahead of the show’s arrival at Riverside Theatres, we asked Robert to give us a few pointers on the show that – unlike most operas – ends with everyone alive and happy.
EB: What’s makes an operetta different to opera? Or to musical theatre for that matter?
Operettas are a lot more fun than most operas. No one ever dies at the end and the one musical requirement was that they had to have a score that could be readily appreciated and understood by its audience with an emphasis on the composer supplying hit tunes. These works were not supported by aristocratic patronage and therefore relied on success at the box office. As such, they mark the true beginnings of what became musical theatre.
What are your personal favourites of the genre and why?
Two Weddings, One Bride contains many of my favourite operettas: Die Fledermaus, The Gipsy Baron, Orpheus in the Underworld, La Périchole, The Merry Widow and The Count of Luxembourg and the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. These are all great pieces that have stood the test of time and are still regularly performed and enjoyed in Europe.
What interested you about writing a “new” operetta rather than adapting a classic?
The problem of the genre is that the pieces were often written very quickly and their libretti can be somewhat weak, even though they might be used to house a great score. When they were written, no one expected anything dramatically great. All that was needed was a fun story with interesting situations that housed a score bursting with great tunes.
Consequently, to a modern audience, the scripts can seem somewhat trite and the pieces can be disregarded despite the wealth of great music that they may contain.
Did you start with a story and find the right songs, or fashion a plot around the song? Or a bit of both?
My love of searching out the highways and byways of music led me to Giroflé-Girofla, by Charles Lecocq. It’s one of the rare examples of an operetta that has a much better libretto than its score, although it was a great success in its day and is still performed occasionally in France.
Using this totally ridiculous story as a basis, I crafted a new libretto with new lyrics that used the most famous tunes from the great operettas mentioned above. The result is a show where you are likely to know at least one tune and most likely a lot more!
Is operetta looked down upon as a form? Is it considered not serious enough by the opera lovers?
There’s a certain amount of snobbery that exists with people who are confronted with classical music they can immediately appreciate as opposed to more erudite forms. A great tune is one of the hardest things to create and should never be looked down upon. Just try writing one yourself!
Can opera singers cross over easily into operetta? Are there certain skill sets common to both or unique to operetta?
Yes they can and once it was considered to be an invaluable training ground for young singers. Here not only do they have to sing very well, but deliver dialogue, show an aptitude for comedy and frequently have to dance with some degree of proficiency. All useful skills for an opera singer!