Der Opernball, Operetta by R. Heuberger
A hilarious test of fidelity provides the premise for Der Opernball (The Opera Ball). The creation of the Austrian composer, Richard Heuberger, Der Opernball has all the classic ingredients of Viennese operetta: disguises, mistaken identities and illicit encounters, not forgetting one dance after another. The moral of the story seems to be that if someone tries to be unfaithful, they will be forgiven as long as they are unsuccessful in the attempt.
Paul and Angèle Aubier pay a visit to the home of Georges and Marguérite Duménil. Marguérite tells Angèle she is convinced her husband, if presented with the opportunity, would readily have an affair. They ask the Duménils’ chambermaid, Hortense, to send two anonymous letters to Paul and Georges to attend a ball. Each assumes that their invitation is from a secret admirer who will be wearing a dress with a pink domino to identify herself. Both women intend to catch their husbands trying to seduce another woman by wearing the same outfit.
Unknown to anyone, Hortense decides to attend the ball herself; she has her eyes on a naval cadet called Henri and dons the same visual cue – the pink domino – as Angèle and Marguérite. At first, the two wives have the upper hand, leading Paul and Georges to meet each other rather than their desired assignation. But then each man sees Hortense and tries their luck with her.
Back at his house, Georges discovers the writing paper used for the invitations and suspects that foul play is involved. But he jumps to the wrong conclusion and challenges Paul to a duel. Only the intervention of their wives will prevent their ruse from turning into a tragedy.
Based on the play, Les dominos roses, by Alfred Delacour and Alfred Hennequin, Der Opernball was so popular that it spawned three films. Soon after its premiere in Vienna at the Theater an der Wien on 5 January 1898, it entered the repertory of opera houses across Europe.
Now audiences at the Volksoper Wien have the chance to enjoy this joyous farce, full of what one of Heuberger’s contemporaries, Max Kalbeck, described as “no ordinary sparkling wine, rather a fiery, bubbly champagne”. Henri and Hortense’s waltz duet, “Gehen wir ins chambre séparée”, often performed in concerts, may provide its most famous moment, but Heuberger’s versatility ensures that Der Opernball is a feast of dance and music throughout: a golden gem in the silver age of Viennese operetta.