Skip to main content

"German Operetta in London and New York, 1907–1939: Cultural Transfer and Transformation"

Final Report Summary - GOLNY (German Operetta in London and New York, 1907–1939: Cultural Transfer and Transformation)

The GOLNY project studied the British and American reception of operetta from the German stage. The stages of Broadway and London’s West End enjoyed a close theatrical interchange, and theatre managers became keen on operetta after the huge success of The Merry Widow (Die lustige Witwe) in both cities in 1907. Over the next thirty years operettas from Berlin and Vienna were produced regularly (over 60 in London and over 70 in New York). The project investigated operetta productions in the context of audience expectations, aspirations and anxieties. It explored the social, cultural, and moral values of the period, and asked how operettas engaged with modernity, innovative technology, social change, and cultural difference.

Seeking to enhance knowledge of international cultural exchange, the business world that surrounded them was studied, and the changes made for London and New York productions were scrutinized. Beyond a desire to know what it was in German operetta that appealed to British and American audiences, activities were sought out that might advance understanding of cosmopolitanism in music. That is because operetta, along with ragtime and early jazz, was able to cross national borders with remarkable ease. The project researched production as well as reception, because the two intertwine. The production of operetta operated as a transcultural entertainment industry. Its business practices illustrate the beginnings of the kind of distribution and consumption of culture that would, in the second half of the twentieth century, begin to be of major economic significance to a country’s gross domestic product.

The reception of operetta was linked to wider social and technological changes, because it circulated via differing media platforms and channels (such as records, radio, films, and dance-band arrangements). Operetta resonated with modernity, the glamorous, the sophisticated, the new, and the experiences of city life. Therefore, an examination of the metropolis as a site of cosmopolitanism and transcultural exchange was required. The music, too, was in need of re-evaluation. In particular there was a need to show that operetta music developed its own musical styles, techniques and devices and di not represent a poorly executed and ill-digested version of opera. Finally, the project aimed to study operetta and its reception in order to provide a more adequate understanding of the musical-theatrical mainstream in the early twentieth century. Operetta is part of a cultural middle ground that is often neglected in academic work, the focus of which has so often fallen on the predilections of a cultural elite, or on working-class leisure pursuits.

The project has resulted in several publications, and its major outcome is an open-access monograph authored by Derek B. Scott (German Operetta on Broadway and in the West End). However, the GOLNY web site is also an important outcome of the project, because it offers a range of resources and information for both the specialist researcher and the interested public. Its main tabs – Operetta, Researchers, Archive, and Events –break down into further subheadings when each tab is clicked on. ‘Operetta’ offers a choice of London & New York, Warsaw, Theatres, and Operetta Celebrities. ‘Researchers’ offers information about the PI and Senior Research Fellow (SRF). The GOLNY Archive offers a choice of tabs bearing different headings: Scores, Programmes, Films & Recordings, and Productions. The ‘Events’ tab subdivides into Study Days, Workshops, and Conferences.