This show was one of the most successful of a particular subgenre of operetta called pasticcio. This genre, which was the direct forbearer of the modern Jukebox musical, involved adapting melodies from pre-existing Classical music into vocal songs and working them into the score of an operetta.
This work was one of the most popular of its kind…it began as a Viennese production called Das Dreimäderlhaus (‘The House of the Three Girls’), and has been adapted into a slew of other languages and countries, being known as Lilac Time in England and Blossom Time in the United States. It introduced the pasticcio form to American audiences, and it would become surprisingly popular while operetta still thrived as a genre, especially in the works of Robert Wright and George Forrest, who popularized the style with such works as Song of Norway and Kismet.
Like Song of Norway, this show is supposedly a “biography” of the life of its source, the immortal Classical composer Franz Schubert, and like that show it bears virtually no resemblance to that composer’s actual life beyond invoking the names of a few other real historical people connected to him. In many respects, this is actually a terrible show. The plot is completely absurd even by operetta standards, and regardless of language or title, every version of the show seems to have a trite book full of lame jokes and lyrics that embody all the cliché-ridden inanity that operetta lyrics are notorious for.
But despite a few minor tinkerings to the American version of the score by Broadway composer Sigmund Romberg, the music is for the most part taken directly from Schubert’s work, and it constitutes such a phenomenal saving grace that it makes the show utterly worthwhile in spite of everything else. Schubert was the single greatest melodist in all of Classical music…not even Mozart could write melody like him…and the meltingly gorgeous, ecstatically lyrical score to Blossom Time might just be the best music ever heard in a Broadway musical.
As I stated, other pasticcios were successful in both Europe and America, but even The Great Waltz (taken from Johann Strauss), Song of Norway (taken from Edvard Grieg) and Kismet (taken from Alexander Borodin) can’t equal the sublime beauty of this one, because those composers, for all their genius, were not artists on the level of Schubert.
Ironically, Schubert had always wanted to be a successful opera composer, but none of his operas were a success even posthumously, until this work finally fulfilled his dream almost a hundred years after his death. Like I said, the music to this show is on the level of the truly legendary opera titles, and as with many of those works, the problems with the story simply fade into insignificance in comparison with the glories of the music. If you can enjoy this show on the same terms you would, say, Cosi Fan Tutte or The Magic Flute, it’s well worth seeking out.