One hundred years ago today, on November 17, 1915, the Emmerich Kálmán operetta “Die Csárdásfürstin,” libretto by Leo Stein, premiered in Vienna’s Johann Strauss-Theater. The Hungarian-language libretto by Béla Jenbach opened a few weeks later in Budapest.
The title character, Silva Varescu, is a cabaret singer in love with an aristocrat, Edwin, whose mother disapproves of the match. It turns out that Edwin’s mother is a retired cabaret singer herself who entered high society through her marriage. She and Edwin’s father agree to the couple’s wedding in the end.
It’s an old theme – marrying for love as opposed to money and status – but the work, arguably Kálmán’s most successful, has remained fresh over the past century. It premiered in 1920s London as “The Gypsy Princess” (English libretto by Nigel Douglas; some later versions were called the Czardas Princess), and was made into a Soviet film, “Silva,” in 1944. These versions have become perennial favorites in their respective countries. I’ve seen a Slovak version in live performance.
Indeed, three or four of the best-known songs from the operetta belong to standard repertoire for numerous Gypsy ensembles I’ve encountered in Central Europe over the past quarter-century. Few songs get to me more than “Hajmási Péter, (Come, Zigeuner [Gypsy], Take Your Bow)” a bittersweet song urging the listener to remember that “there’ll always be grapes and soft bread,” to celebrate life even though the “barometer indicates rain.” Particularly poignant if you recall that Austria-Hungary was one year into WWI at the time. The Hungarian version is sung to a slightly different tune than you’ll hear in German or English, more passionate—so that’s the one I stick to when I sing it.
I’ve made three of these songs part of my repertoire. I’m embedding one of them, “Girls Are the Thing/Jaj Cica” from previous performances. I’m working on “That Fellow Cupid/Die Dumme Liebe/Te rongyos élet” for Friday night, when I’ll be performing all three as part of Trinity Episcopal Church—Onancock, VA’s Coffeehouse (6-9 PM).
Please see also my entry from June on the show's run in Donetsk, Ukraine.