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chocolate soldier

The Chocolate Soldier

The Chocolate Soldier (Der tapfere Soldat) is an operetta composed by Oscar Straus based on George Bernard Shaw's 1894 play, Arms and the Man. The German libretto was by Rudolf Bernauer and Leopold Jacobson.

Background

When Shaw had given Leopold Jacobson the rights to adapt the play, he had given three conditions: none of Shaw's dialogue, nor any of the character's names, could be used; the libretto must be advertised as a parody, and Shaw would accept no monetary compensation. In spite of this, Shaw's original plot, and with it the central message of the play, remain more or less untouched. The main love aria, for instance, is sung by the heroine just before she meets the "other man", and the "brave" soldier turns out to be a worse coward than his unmilitaristic rival.

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.

Performance history

As Der tapfere Soldat, it premièred on 14 November 1908 at the Theater an der Wien, under the baton of Robert Stolz with Grete Holm singing Nadina, where it was a considerable success.

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.

Roles

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
Mascha soprano
Aurelia contralto
Popoff baritone
Massakroff baritone

Synopsis

Act I The operetta is set in 1885, near the Dragoman Pass. Serbia and Bulgaria are at war, and the wife and daughter of the Bulgarian Colonel Popoff are missing their menfolk – the Colonel himself, and Major Alexius Spiridoff, who is engaged to the daughter, Nadina. Mascha, a young cousin of Nadina who is staying at the Popoff’s residence, also hero worships Alexius. Alone in her bedroom, Nadina clutches her sweetheart’s photograph and sings of her admiration and love for her “brave hussar” and longs for his return.

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.

Musical numbers (English adaptation)

Act I

  • "We Are Marching Through the Night" - Soldiers
  • "We Too, Are Lonely" - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha
  • "We Are Searching for the Foe" - Soldiers
  • "What Can We Do Without a Man?" - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha
  • "Say Good Night" - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha
  • "Melodrama" - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha
  • "My Hero" - Nadina
  • "Chocolate Soldier" - Bumerli, Nadina
  • "Sympathy" - Bumerli, Nadina
  • "Seek the Spy" - Massakroff, Nadina, Aurelia, Macha, Bumerli, Soldiers
  • Finaletto - Act I - Nadina, Aurelia, MaschaAct II
  • "The Fatherland is Free" - Company
  • "Alexius the Hero" - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha, Poppoff, Alexius, Bumerli, Ensemble
  • "Never Was There Such a Lover" - Alexius, Nadina
  • "The Tale of the Coat" - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha, Poppoff, Alexius, Bumerli
  • "That Would Be Lovely" - Bumerli, Nadina
  • Finaletto - Act II - Nadina, Aurelia, Mascha, Poppoff, Alexius, Bumerli, EnsembleAct III
  • Opening Chorus - Ensemble
  • "Falling in Love" - Alexius, Mascha
  • "The Letter Song" - Nadina
  • "Melodrama" - Bumerli
  • "The Letter Song" (reprise) - Bumerli, Nadina
  • Finale - Company

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".

Film version

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wished to make a filmed version of The Chocolate Soldier in 1940, but they were refused permission (or at least permission at a reasonable price) by Shaw. Instead, Louis B. Mayer bought the rights to Straus's music, and used the plot from Ferenc Molnár's play Testőr (also known as Playing With Fire and Where Ignorance is Bliss, and ultimately adapted by Philip Moeller as The Guardsman with Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne) as the plot of a 1941 film, The Chocolate Soldier, starring Nelson Eddy and Risë Stevens, incorporating music from other works as well.

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:

Use of "Chocolate Soldier" term in Israel

In the colloquial Hebrew of Israel, especially as used among soldiers, the term "A Chocolate Soldier" (Hayal Shel Shokolad, חייל של שוקולד) is used to describe a clumsy or spoiled soldier who fails to exhibit militaristic virtues. The term can be used pejoratively or humorously, depending on context. Ruvik Rosenthal, who writes a weekly linguistics column in Maariv newspaper, wrote on the origin of the expression: "The term 'A Chocolate Soldier', meaning a soft soldier who is unable to fight, is traced by some to a chocolate candy in the form of a soldier, while others believe it to originate from a play by George Bernard Shaw which has been made into a musical (sic)

Notes

References

External links

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