NOTE: This In Performance broadcast (9 June 2013) will begin at 3pm, one half hour earlier than usual.
From his childhood in Hungary at the end of the 18th century, Zsigmond Romberg had clearly displayed his musical promise. This, his parents thought, would never do! Zsigmond should study something that would guarantee him a solid, stable income. Music, they were certain, was the route to privation. Thus, they sent him away to school to study engineering.
Maybe they’d never been to the city where they sent him. If they had, they might have known that someone with a love of music wouldn’t long resist its pull in Vienna.
Sure enough, young Zsigmond quickly fell under the spell of Johann Strauss Junior and Franz Lehar. He signed up for composition lessons with Richard Heuberger, creator of the operetta Der Opernball – who, coincidentally, had also given up engineering to become a composer. After serving in Hungary’s army, Romberg headed for the States, hoping that the Land of Opportunity would be kind to an aspiring composer. When he arrived here in 1909, Romberg, now calling himself Sigmund, was just 22 years old.
Romberg’s first opportunity wasn’t as auspicious as he’d hoped: he found himself working in a pencil factory. However, it wasn’t long before he was playing piano in a cafe. That led to a gig leading the house orchestra at Andre Bustanoby’s tony New York restaurant. Romberg soon expanded the orchestra’s repertoire with his own waltzes and other compositions.
Bustanoby’s was at 39th and Broadway, so it was inevitable that Broadway would discover Romberg’s talent. Sure enough, producers JJ and Lee Shubert hired Romberg as a staff composer for their shop. In 1914 Romberg composed his first musical for the Shuberts, The Whirl of the World.
Three years later, Romberg had 17 musicals and revues to his name, and his first major hit on the stage: Maytime, an English adaptation of Walter Kollo’s Viennese operetta Wie einst im Mai (As Once in May).
In 1916, at the height of the Great War, the Hungarian composer Heinrich Berté had filled theatres in Vienna (and later Germany) with his long-running nostalgic (and utterly fictional) portrait of composer Franz Schubert’s love life, Das Dreimäderlhaus (The House of Three Maidens). Largely at the insistence of his producer, Berté had borrowed most of his musical themes from Schubert’s compositions. As it turned out, that was the right choice. The familiar tunes – and the sentimental subject – resonated strongly with audiences worn down by war. Das Dreimäderlhaus was, in a way, the opera stage success that had eluded Franz Schubert in his lifetime.
The US was on the other side in WW I, but by 1921, American listeners were again ready to embrace Austrian culture. In that year, Romberg applied his 1917 Maytime formula to Das Dreimäderlhaus. Blossom Time opened at Broadway’s Ambassador Theatre on 29 September.
In creating Blossom Time, Romberg didn’t just fit Das Dreimäderlhaus‘s melodies to Dorothy Donnelly’s English libretto. He effectively recomposed the operetta’s music, changing the rhythms of many tunes, and adopting a theme from Schubert’s Unfinished symphony as Blossom Time‘s love theme.
The result was Romberg’s biggest hit yet. Blossom Time‘s legs carried it for almost 600 performances – one of the longest first runs in Broadway history.
Act 1 opens at Domayer’s, an outdoor cafe in Vienna. It’s May, 1826. Composer Franz Schubert’s friends Kuppelweiser, Vogl, and Schwind reveal that their better-heeled friend Baron Franz Schober is carrying on an affair with the married singer La Bellabruna. Bellabruna enters with her husband Count Scharntoff, who wonders what she finds so extraordinary about artists. She asks him, "Can you write a song?"
Sharntoff can’t, but he knows someone who can. He offers Schubert the astronomical sum of 250 Gulden (about 66,500 of today’s US dollars!) for a love song he can pass off as his own work.
We meet Mitzi Kranz and her sisters Fritzi and Kitzi. The latter two are secretly engaged, against their father’s wishes, and are here for a rendevous with their fiancees – Schubert’s friends Binder and Erkmann respectively.
Schubert joins his friends. He pays their bill – and tips the waiter. This is the eternally penniless composer? Schubert reveals his good fortune.
Herr Christian Kranz arrives, looking for his daughters, soon followed by Bellabruna’s wealthy lover, Baron Schober. Schober fears Count Scharntoff will challenge him to a duel over Bellabruna’s affections. He promises the Kranz sisters that he will persuade their father to accept Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s fiancees.
Mitzi reveals that she sings Schubert’s songs. Schubert is smitten. Schober tells Kranz that his daughters are at the restaurant so Mitzi can arrange to study singing with Schubert. Binder and Erkmann ask Herr Kranz for Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s hands. Tipsy with Schober’s wine, he agrees to consider the proposal.
Act 2 takes place 3 months later. We are at the Kranz home for Fritzi’s and Kitzi’s wedding. La Bellabruna realizes that Schober has fallen for Mitzi Kranz, and they agree to end their affair. In a duet, Mitzi and Schubert wonder about each other’s feelings.
Bellabruna tells Mitzi that "F S" is in love with her, and warns her that this "F S" is a cad. Bellabruna means Franz Schober, but Mitzi thinks she is speaking of Franz Schubert! Bellabruna’s warning thus confounds her intent: Mitzi, believing her trust in Schubert betrayed, falls under the romantic spell of her childhood friend, Schober.
The shy, quiet Schubert, unaware of Schober’s feelings for Mitzi, asks him to intercede on his behalf with Mitzi, taking Schubert’s love songs to her. The effort works, but not as Schubert intended: it further intensifies Mitzi’s attraction to Schober.
Act 3 finds us in Schubert’s apartment. Schubert has been accepted as a member of the Music Society, but he is despondent over his lost love. His Unfinished symphony is to be performed, but he is too ill to attend.
Count Scharntoff returns the song that Schubert composed for him; Bellabruna, he says, is unworthy of it. He will duel with Schober tomorrow. Despite his own unrequited love for Mitzi, Schubert tells Scharntoff that Schober loves Mitzi, not the Count’s wife Bellabruna. He persuades Scharntoff to cancel the duel, for Mitzi’s sake.
Mitzi apologizes to Schubert for her confusion and offers to help him through his illness. Recognizing that she and Schober are meant for each other, he urges her to follow her heart.
|Franz Schubert||Justin Berkowitz|
|Baron Schober||Luke Bahr|
|Count Scharntoff||Ted Christopher|
|La Bellabruna||Caroline Miller|
|Herr Kranz||Boyd Mackus|
|Fritzi||Danielle McCormick Knox|
|Frau Kranz||Olivia Maughan|
|Frau Coburg||Suzanne Oberdorfer|
|OHIO LIGHT OPERA|
|Artistic Director||Steven Daigle|
|WORKS BY SCHUBERT USED IN BLOSSOM TIME|
|Rosamunde: Incidental Music||Three Little Maids|
|Ecossaise D735 #2 & Trauerwalzer D365 #2||My Springtime Thou Art|
|Heidenröslein D257||Love’s A Riddle|
|Symphony #8 "Unfinished"||Tell Me Daisy|
|Die Forelle D550 & Piano Sonata in Eb D568||Only One Love|
|Die schöne Müllerin D795: "Ungeduld"||Thou Art My Love|
|Ave Maria D839 (Liederzyklus vom Fräulein
vom See: "Ellens dritter Gesang")
|Peace to My Lonely Heart|