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“When the world comes to an end,” Viennese writer Karl Kraus lamented in 1908, “all the big city orchestras will still be playing The Merry Widow.” Viennese operettas like Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow were preeminent cultural texts during the Austro-Hungarian Empire’s final years. Alternately hopeful and nihilistic, operetta staged contemporary debates about gender, nationality, and labor. The Operetta Empire delves into this vibrant theatrical culture, whose creators simultaneously sought the respectability of high art and the popularity of low entertainment. Case studies examine works by Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, Oscar Straus, and Leo Fall in light of current musicological conversations about hybridity and middlebrow culture. Demonstrating a thorough mastery of the complex early twentieth-century Viennese cultural scene, and a sympathetic and redemptive critique of a neglected popular genre, Micaela Baranello establishes operetta as an important element of Viennese cultural life—one whose transgressions helped define the musical hierarchies of its day.


The Operetta Empire has been reviewed or featured in:

  • The New York Review of Books
  • The Rest is Noise (named an “apex of 2021”)
  • BR-Klassik radio
  • German History
  • Opera (UK)
  • Grammophone (UK)


“Ultimately, The Operetta Empire makes a powerful case for us to engage with operetta afresh with a new awareness of its complicated ambitions, the ambivalent mixture of emotions it conveys, and its difficult reception in history. . . . It all adds up to a deeply satisfying and fascinating book that no one interested in operetta—or this period of Vienna’s musical history—will want to miss.”

Opera Magazine

“This is an excellent study of the musical, historical, economic, social, and political background of the Silver Age Viennese operetta, which is generally supposed to have begun with Franz Lehár’s composition The Merry Widow in 1905. Baranello brings operetta into the mainstream of musicological studies, continuing a trend toward scholarly consideration of popular forms of music theater, such as the American musical.”


“Vienna’s ‘Silver Age’ operetta was simultaneously a successful international culture industry and a distillation of the city’s multiethnic local identities, a sentimental escapist entertainment and an increasingly ambitious art. Micaela Baranello captures the glamorous yet contested nature of this long-dismissed genre through a sophisticated explication of the creation and reception of some of twentieth-century Europe’s most popular theatrical works.”—Lynn M. Hooker, author of Redefining Hungarian Music from Liszt to Bartók

“A pioneering study of twentieth-century Viennese operetta that shows the limits of, and presents a much-needed challenge to, the musicological fixation on high-status musical modernism in Vienna.”—Derek B. Scott, author of German Operetta on Broadway and in the West End, 1900–1940

“In this well-researched volume, Baranello celebrates the extraordinary nature and significance of early twentieth-century Viennese operetta, a repertory clearly deserving of such an investigation. Her work is destined to occupy a prominent place in the expanding literature on musical theater in general and operetta in particular.”—William A. Everett, author of Sigmund Romberg