Opera Companies Produced the Initial American Operettas

At the beginning, most American opera companies performed European imports.  The music imported might be grand opera or light opera/operetta.  The objective was not to create a show that would run in Boston or New York for many years.  Rather, the plan was to use a Broadway opening as a way to establish the quality of a show and then take the show (and the company of players and musicians) on tour.  

Thus, it was not unusual to see the production companies schedule a major city run of 70-90 days and then schedule lengthy tours around the country.  The same business model had worked quite well for the vaudeville circuits, so it was thought that other forms of entertainment might also benefit from the practice.  Each community on the “tour” would see posters go up, advertising some new show that was coming directly from its “smashing success on Broadway.”

Poster of John Phillip Sousa's El Capitan, starring De Wolf Hopper

Poster of El Capitan

However, as good European imports lessened and as public tastes started to change, the opera companies started to shift the emphasis from revivals of Franz Lehar and Johann Strauss to new operetta works by American composers in the 1890’s.  Thus, The Bostonians produced Reginald De Koven’s Robin Hood (1891.29) and then followed up with Victor Herbert’s Prince Ananais (1894.45), The Serenade (1897.13) and The Viceroy (1900.25), in short order.

Frank Daniels Opera Company produced Herbert’s Wizard of the Nile (1895.33), and Francis Wilson Opera Company funded De Koven’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1899.28).  

Alice Nielsen, Soprano with The Bostonians and her own Production Company

Alice Nielsen, Soprano

The DeWolf Hopper Comic Opera Company produced John Philip Sousa’s El Capitan (1896.13); and Alice Nielsen, a soprano with The Bostonians, formed her own company and produced Herbert’s The Fortune Teller (1898.60), an operetta that Herbert is said to have written specifically for her.