Shaw despised the result, however, calling it "a putrid opera bouffe in the worst taste of 1860", but grew to regret not accepting payment when, despite his opinion of the work, it became an international success.
When Shaw heard, in 1921, that Franz Lehár wanted to set his play Pygmalion to music, he sent word to Vienna that Lehár be instructed that he could not touch Pygmalion without infringing Shaw's copyright and that Shaw had "no intention of allowing the history of The Chocolate Soldier to be repeated." Pygmalion was eventually adapted by Lerner and Loewe as My Fair Lady, but this was possible only because they were, at least in theory, adapting a screenplay co-authored by Shaw, with rights controlled by the film company.
The first English-language version premiered in New York, translated by Stanislaus Stange, on 13 September, 1909, where it was the hit of the Broadway season. It was revived on Broadway in 1910, 1921, 1930, 1931, 1934, and 1947. Its London premiere at the Lyric Theatre in 1910 was also a tremendous success, running for 500 performances. The operetta was filmed (as a silent movie) in 1915.
In 1987, Light Opera Works in Illinois produced the operetta with a new English translation by its former artistic director, Philip Kraus, and lyrics by Gregory Opelka. This was subsequently used for a production by the Ohio Light Opera and recorded by Newport Compact Discs.
In 2002, there was another production at the Kammeroper in Hamburg under Katja Klose and Hans Thiemann.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast,14 November 1908|
(Conductor: Robert Stolz)
|Bumerli, a Swiss mercenary||tenor|
|Nadina Popoff, a Bulgarian girl||soprano||Grete Holm|
|Alexius, a Bulgarian soldier, loved by Nadina||tenor|
An intruder (Bumerli) climbs in through her bedroom window. He is a very ordinary person, nothing like the ideal hero Nadina has been worshipping. In fact he has escaped the battle taking place nearby by climbing the Popoffs' drainpipe. He is in Serbian uniform, but responds to Nadina’s patriotic posturing by revealing that his is actually Swiss, and is serving in the Serbian army as a mercenary. When she threatens to call for help he briefly threatens her with his revolver – but soon puts it down. When she picks it up and threatens him he laughs at her – he uses his ammunition pouch to carry chocolates and has no cartridges to load his weapon.
In spite of herself Nadina is amused and charmed by this “Little Chocolate Soldier”. He recounts an incident in battle when a foolish Bulgarian officer lost control of his horse, thus leading an inadvertent cavalry charge against Serb guns that happened to have been supplied with the wrong ammunition and were thus overrun. Nadina is furious to realise that the officer concerned was her Alexius, and orders Bumerli to leave at once – when he starts to leave she calls him back. Just in time, as a squad of bumbling Bulgarian soldiers, led by Captain Massakroff, arrive in pursuit. Fortunately Bumerli has had time to hide behind the bed curtains, and Nadina assures them that she has not seen the intruder. While the Bulgarian soldiers search the rest of the house, Aurelia, Nadina’s mother, and young Mascha come to the bedroom. They are sure something is going on, and when they spot Bumerli’s revolver the secret is out.
By the time the soldiers have left the house and Nadina opens her bed curtains Bumerli is asleep, and the lonely women are all very taken with him. They awaken him with their chatter, but he is exhausted and only wants to go back to sleep again. They ransack the house for civilian clothes to enable him to escape – each, unknown to the others, slipping a photograph of herself into the pocket of his jacket – a favourite house coat of the Colonel’s.Act II Six months have passed, and the war is over. Outside the Popoff residence the family and servants are welcoming their heroes home. Nadina is delighted to have her Alexius back, but she soon realises that he is far from the hero she imagined, but is boastful and self-centred. When he boasts of the incident of the charge on the guns he is embarrassed to realise that Nadina knows more about the matter than she should. The ladies are embarrassed in their turn when Popoff tells them of a Swiss soldier in the Serbian army that they met after the fighting was over – and who told them a very funny story of escaping from a battle by hiding in a house where he was sheltered by three ladies who all fell in love with him.
The plot thickens as Bumerli himself returns to the scene. He has come to return the clothes he used to escape, and manages to slip them to the ladies without suspicion being aroused. The menfolk are a little puzzled to meet him again, but they invite him to stay for the wedding of Nadina and Alexius. Bumerli manages to get Nadina alone, and confesses that it is his love for her that has drawn him back. He cannot bear to see her married to another, and goes to leave. Heartbroken herself, Nadina asks for her photograph – but Bumerli never looked in the pocket of her father’s housecoat – it is still there!
The Colonel is wearing his favourite coat – there is some slapstick as the ladies try to stop him looking in his pocket by finding him matches and a handkerchief. Eventually they all retrieve a photograph from the pocket – each assuming it is their own. When Nadina goes to return her photograph to Bumerli she finds that it is Mascha’s, and that there is a compromising message on the back of it. She flies into a jealous fury that removes all possible doubt that it is Bumerli she really loves.
The guests gather for the wedding ceremony – including Captain Massakroff, who recognises Bumerli as the intruder he saw climb the drainpipe in Act I – in the resulting chaos Mascha produces Nadina’s photograph, with its compromising message. Popoff and Alexius are not very bright, but even they start to put two and two together. Alexius is furious with Nadina, and she in her turn declares that she no longer loves him. As the act curtain falls the wedding is definitely off. Act III The scene returns to Nadina’s bedroom, where she is writing a letter to Bumerli. It is not friendly, as she is still jealous of Mascha. As she finishes the letter, Bumerli himself appears through the window. Nadina gives him his letter, but he does not take it seriously. If she did not love him she would not be so jealous.
Massakroff appears, with a challenge to a duel from Alexius to Bumerli. Bumerli accepts without hesitation, much to Nadina’s consternation. Alexius is also terrified – he would never have challenged his rival if he had not been sure he was too much of a coward to accept. It seems Alexius is coming round to the idea he would be happier with Mascha anyway.
Any doubts among the family that Bumerli would not make a good husband for Nadina are dispelled by the revelation that he is the son of a wealthy Swiss businessman, and all ends happily.
The operetta was continually reworked during Straus' lifetime. Among those songs that were dropped is the (now) amusingly titled "Why Is It Love Makes Us Feel Queer?"; the more well-known songs include "My Hero", "Thank the Lord the War Is Over", "Sympathy", "Seek the Spy", "Tiralala", "The Chocolate Soldier", and "Forgive".
The plot of the 1941 film concerns the jealousy of a pair of Viennese singers, Maria and Karl Lang. To test her loyalty, Karl masquerades as a Russian guardsman and tries to seduce Maria. Complications ensue.
The film includes the following non-Straus selections: