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Archive for June, 2012

Poster for the Broadway Premiere
Poster for a 1905 performance
(Wikimedia Commons; PD in USA)

NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (for 3 June 2012) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.


Victor Herbert was born in Dublin, but after his father died, he and his mother went to London to live with his grandfather. When he was 27, his mother married a German physician, and Herbert landed in Stuttgart.

There he expected to become a doctor like his stepfather, but that was not to be. His family fell on hard times. Then as now, the cost of a medical education was daunting. So music it was, and Victor entered the Stuttgart Conservatory, where he studied cello.

A gig as a cellist in Eduard Strauss’s orchestra took Herbert to Vienna, where he met soprano Therese Foerster. In 1886 they were married. Her career was on an upward trajectory that soon took her to New York and the Met. There she was offered the lead in Goldmark’s The Queen of Sheba for the 1886-87 season opener. She accepted, on the condition that her husband would be hired to play in the Met orchestra. He signed on as principal cellist.

Herbert threw himself into New York’s musical life, playing cello and composing, and eventually adopting America as his permanent home. For the first several years, he composed only instrumental music, but in 1894 he created his first operetta, Prince Ananias.

Except for a few years as music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the theatre would be Herbert’s principal musical home for the rest of his life, with such major operetta successes as 1903′s Babes in Toyland, 1905′s Mlle Modiste, 1906′s The Red Mill, 1910′s Naughty Marietta, and 1913′s Sweethearts. He also composed operas; in later years, ballet music for musical theatre; and the score for the 1916 film, The Fall of a Nation.

Herbert’s first real success in operetta came in 1897 with The Serenade. This was thanks partly to his music, and partly to the impressive star power of soprano Alice Nielsen. The following season, Herbert composed The Fortune Teller for Nielsen and her opera company, giving her no fewer than three roles. His librettist was Harry B. Smith.

After a brief engagement in Toronto, The Fortune Teller premiered on Broadway on 26 September 1898. It ran for 40 performances. That may not seem like a long run, but at the beginning of the 20th century a Broadway premiere was just the beginning of a show’s life on the road.


Act 1 opens at the Budapest Opera’s ballet school. Penurious Count Berezowski has learned that one of the ballet students is to inherit an imposing estate. The count has found the solution to his poverty: a wedding!

There are, however, two small catches. One is ballet master Fresco, who wants his cut of the fortune – a "finder’s fee," if you will. The other is a bit more daunting: the would-be heiress, Irma, doesn’t much like the count. Besides, she already loves another, Captain Ladislas. Not for her this wedding: she must escape before it’s too late!

As luck (and reports from Ladislas) would have it, Irma’s twin brother Fedor has just deserted his military post to elope with a French singer. Desertion is a capital crime. So Irma has a chance not only to escape the count, but also to save her brother’s life. All she has to do is dress up in Fedor’s uniform and take his place. With that, she’s off, leaving behind a bogus suicide note for ballet master Fresco.

Fresco is beside himself – not at Irma’s alleged death, but at the loss of the cash it represents! Just then a solution presents itself in the form of Musette, a fortune teller with a band of Romanies who have just arrived. Musette bears an uncanny resemblance to Irma. (The two roles are always played by the same singer.) Aha! Fresco will simply marry Musette to the count.

Not surprisingly, this idea doesn’t sit well with Musette’s real lover from the Romany band, Sandor. But not to worry, he says – they’ll just run off after the wedding, leaving Count Berezowski in the lurch.

Act 2 takes place at Count Berezowski’s chateau. The wedding is imminent, but the bride, Musette, is nowhere to be found. However, Irma has returned, wearing her brother’s uniform. Fresco persuades her to trade her uniform for the wedding gown.

Following all this so far? Good. Now, take a deep breath: Sandor takes Irma for Musette, his sweetheart. Captain Ladislas takes her for his love, Irma. Count Berezowski takes her for his bride-to-be. And the count is determined to take her for his bride.

The three men are about to come to blows, so Irma reveals her "true identity." She is, she says, Fedor, her brother. This ruse is threatened when Fedor’s fiancee, the French singer Pompom, appears. But just then a messenger arrives with the news that war has broken out. All head for the front.

Act 3 finds us at the Hungarian forces’ camp. Fedor is still missing, and Irma is still taking his place. Pompom arrives, and accuses "Fedor" of deserting her.

Just as the situation seems hopeless, an officer arrives with the resolution. Fedor hasn’t deserted either Pompom or the army. He’s been sent on a top secret mission, and he’s about to return a hero!

The subterfuge is undone and all is forgiven. Now Irma can marry her true love Ladislas, Musette can marry Sandor, and Fedor can tie the knot with Pompom. Count Berezowski and Fresco? They’re left with their just reward for their conniving and duplicity – nothing.

Irma / Musette / Fedor Amy Maples
Count Berezowski Logan Walsh
Fresco Gary Moss
Captain Ladislas Stephen Faulk
Sandor David Kelleher-Flight
Pompom Elisa Matthews
Boris Max Nolin
Vaninka Sarah Best
Rafael Lori Birrer
General Korbay Geoffrey Penar
Lieutenant Geoffrey Kannenberg
Wanda Natalie Ballenger
Vera Madeline Piscetta
Matosin Jacob Allen
Artistic Director Steven Daigle
Conductor Steven Byess
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