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The Lyric Stage October 25 - Lehar's Giuditta

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Giuditta is an attempt by Franz Lehar to finally write an opera, to break out of the mold of being only a composer of operetta. Some critics  think he succeeded, 

but most think he fell somewhere in between the two genres, and give its residence in that gray area as the reason why it does not have more performances – none in the last ten years in the US – in spite of its first rate music. This week we feature highlights from Giuditta, with the Mörbisch Festival Choir, and the Mörbisch Festival Orchestra conducted by Rudolph Bibl. Natalia Ushakova and Mehrzad Montazeri head the cast.                      

The story has shades of Carmen and Show Boat. The beautiful Giuditta leaves her boring husband for the happy, life loving soldier Octavio. She follows him and his regimemt to North Africa. At first they are happy, but when she urges him to desert because he is being transferred, he refuses. She becomes a night club singer, with many men pursuing her. Octavio does finally desert, and when he comes back he sees Giuditta leave her night club with Lord Barrymore, and it breaks Octavio's heart. In the last scene, four years later, Octavio is reduced to playing piano in a hotel bar. Giuditta, now Barrymore’s mistress, sees him. She declares that she still loves him but it is too late; Octavio is too broken to respond.

The Oxford Dictionary of Music describes Giuditta as the most ambitious of Lehar's works. The Vienna State Opera premiered the work in 1935. But as noted earlier, it is not often performed. As is the case with many worthy operas or operettas by composers who have sure fire hits in their body of works, it is the hit that impresarios choose. The Merry Widow is much more certain box office than the less known Giuditta, and Giuditta is an attempt at opera, not operetta, and perhaps Lehar's admirers don't want to accept that. It is interesting that late in his composing career, Giacomo Puccini, the master of opera, agreed to compose an operetta. The result was La Rondine, but like Giuditta, it fell somewhere between operetta and opera, and has never been very popular.

Lehar died in 1948 at 78; he wrote no more stage works after Giuditta.

Mike Harrah is host of The Lyric Stage, which airs Sundays at 8 pm.