The 19th century saw the idea of travel hit everywhere. There was the Grand Tour, the novels where one went from home to exotic Brighton now changed to novels where one went around the world or even to the moon. Operas, operettas, and musicals, too, started to set their stories in exotic locations, from India to the Arctic to the deepest Africa.
Austrian composer Franz von Suppé (1819-1895) wrote light operas and operettas and most have vanished with the changing taste in music. His overtures, though, live on, with The Poet and Peasant (1846) and the Light Cavalry (1866) being particular favourites.
Suppè’s 1893 operetta Die Afrikareise (The Africa Trip) starts in Cairo with an unpaid hotel bill. By the end of the opera, we’ve had people with false identities, an heiress who must be married tomorrow to gain her inheritance, a Pasha who must get married to counteract the poison he’s inadvertently been given, and, of course, everyone is in love with the wrong person.
The overture to Die Afrikareise is a typical Suppé overture, full of the structure and focus that he always brought to his overtures. This particular overture was used for the 1883 premiere but was later removed from the opera when one of the major pieces, based on Das Vergissmeinnicht (The Forget-Me-Not) from Act II, was omitted from the opera in a revision. A substitute overture by Paul Lincke was later added, from a miscellany of melodies from the opera, but it doesn’t have the conciseness and spark of Suppé’s original.
Suppé keeps to standard Viennese operetta styles for this work, and although he may make use of the triangle and the tambourine for their exotic sound, his ‘half-nude female slaves happily dance the polka’.
The three-act operetta received its premiere at the Theater an der Wien in March 1883 but although the critics weren’t fans of it, the audience loved the show. From Vienna, the operetta moved to Berlin in 1884 and later that year to Boston.
Franz von Suppé: Die Afrikareise: Overture (original version) (Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava; Dario Salvi, cond.)
This 2022 recording is by Dario Salvi, who has used his experience as a conductor and researcher to recreate lost works of the Viennese 19th-century stage, including reinstating this overture to Die Afrikareise.
Franz von Suppé: Die Afrikareise
Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava
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