Richard Genée

Richard Genée


• 1823 1895

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Although Richard Genee stands in the shadow of the composers with whom he collaborated, in his time he was one of the leading musical figures in Vienna and responsible for several long-enduring works. Franz Friedrich Richard Genee was the son of Friedrich Genee, a theater conductor, and chose music over medicine for a career. He studied in Berlin and served as Kapellmeister at theaters in various German cities, as well as composing a handful of light operatic and vocal pieces in the 1850s and 1860s (one in collaboration with Flotow). Genee's most important work was at the podium -- at 45, he became the conductor at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, which coincided with the boom in popularity for operetta. Initially, Genee's involvement was purely on the musical side, but in 1870, when Johann Strauss II was persuaded to turn his attention to operetta, Genee was called upon to assist -- for all of his gifts, Strauss had no familiarity with the requirements of writing for the theater, whereas Genee, with his extensive theatrical background, understood that side of operetta and had the musical skills to mesh with Strauss' creative sensibilities. Genee became his collaborator on Die Fledermaus, which went on to become the most enduringly popular of all nineteenth century operettas. It was Genee who helped make the text work in Strauss' hands, not only providing lyrics and refining the libretto, but also assisting Strauss in the latter's devising of his melodies. The two later worked together on Ein Nacht In Venedig, Der lustige Kriege, and Cagliostro in the West, all of which were successful in their time and the first of which still has an audience more than a century later. Genee also collaborated with Franz von Suppé on Fatinitza and Boccaccio and, with Friedrich Zell, wrote the libretto for Carl Millöcker's Die Bettelstudent -- three of which are still heard on European stages in the twenty-first century -- and several of his own operettas. Beyond his composing and conducting, Genee also did translations of the librettos of works by Jacques Offenbach and Gilbert and Sullivan. He was one of the most successful musicians in Vienna, despite the limited popularity of his own operettas (apart from Nanon, die Wirtin vom Goldenen Lamm (1877)). He retired from conducting at age 55 and lived comfortably, enjoying the fruits of his popularity to the then ripe old age of 72.