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MADAME POMPADOUR Operette in 3 acts by Rudolf Schanzer and Ernst Welisch. Music by Leo Fall. Berliner Theater, Berlin, 9 September 1922.


The most successful of the postwar works of Leo Fall, and one of his most delightful, Madame Pompadour was written for the Berlin theatre and as a vehicle for its reigning queen of the musical stage, Fritzi Massary. Like those of many Operetten before and since, the amorous adventures of the plot had little to do with the historical Madame Pompadour, but were simply tacked on to the recognizable and title-worthy figures of France’s Louis XV and his mistress.

René, Comte d’Estrades, who has come up to Paris for a dirty weekend over carnival time, picks up a pretty girl in an inn. She turns out to be the Marquise de Pompadour (Massary), out on the town in disguise, and he consequently finds himself arrested and condemned to ... her personal bodyguard. His drinking companion, Josef Calicot (Ralph Arthur Roberts), a would-be poet who had been singing rude songs about the royal mistress over his beer, is, in his turn, sentenced to write the amused Marquise a play. The jealous King Louis and his police chief get into a fiendish muddle trying to catch the Pompadour out with her unknown lover but, after a series of bedroom-farcical incidents, the lady neatly extracts herself from trouble. The comical Calicot, who had ludicrously been under suspicion, is paired off with her maid Belotte and René, who turns out to be none other than the husband of the royal mistress’s half-sister, is packed off back to his wife, leaving the Marquise to her King, not to mention the remainder of her personal bodyguard.

The score followed one sparkling song with another. The tripping duet between Massary and Roberts ‘Josef, ach Josef’ was a comical highlight, alongside Calicot’s bouncing denunciation of ‘Die Pom-, Pom-, Pompadour’, whilst the leading lady made her entrance to the strains of ‘Heut’ konnt einer sein Glück bei mir machen’, dazzled through her showy ‘Madame Pompadour’ and encouraged René’s invitation to ‘Ein intimes Souper’ in her principal musical moments.

Bernauer and Meinhard’s Berlin production of Madame Pompadour was a splendid success at the Berliner Theater and then at their Komödienhaus before Massary took the piece to Vienna’s Carltheater. She starred there, alongside Ernst Tautenhayn (Calicot), Erik Wirl (René), Mimi Vesely (Belotte) and Ernst Rollé (King), for some 60 performances before Mimi Kott took over the star rôle and romanced first Willi Strehl and then Eric Deutsch-Haupt, with Ernst Arnold as Calicot, through to the end of the seven-month run. In Budapest (ad Zsolt Harsanyi) Sári Fedák played the Pompadour, whilst in New York, after producer Dillingham had sacked leading lady Hope Hampton on the road as ‘incompetent and insubordinate’, Wilda Bennett headed what was ultimately a disappointing production (ad Clare Kummer) which lasted only 80 performances on Broadway. 

A much more successful English version of Madame Pompadour was the one made for the British stage by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham. It, indeed, turned out to be the longest-running Madame Pompadour of all. Mounted at Daly’s Theatre under Jimmy White’s régime, with Evelyn Laye as the merry Marquise, Derek Oldham as René, the old Daly’s favourite, Huntley Wright, as Calicot and Bertram Wallis (King Louis) and Elsie Randolph (Belotte) in support, it was an enormous hit, running for 13 months and 469 performances. Australia, too, welcomed this version of the show, with the Dutch soprano Beppie de Vries as its Pompadour teamed with Frank Webster (René) and Arthur Stigant (Calicot).

It took some years before Paris saw Madame Pompadour, but the Operette finally won itself a French showing in the wake of an extravagantly produced `Revue-Operette’ revival at Berlin’s Grosses Schauspielhaus in 1926. In line with that house’s reputation for botching, Massary had this time introduced the Arthur Guttmann/Julius Freund ‘Im Liebesfalle’, first heard in Die Herren von Maxim, adapted by Schanzer and Welisch as an additional solo. The French version (ad Albert Willemetz, Max Eddy, Jean Marietti, with the lady punctiliously rechristened Madame de Pompadour) was lavishly and successfully presented at the Théâtre Marigny by Léon Volterra. Raymonde Vécart, Robert Burnier and René Herent starred, supported (in deference to the fashion for things American, even in period France) by ‘les Merry Girls’ and ‘les Smart Boys’, as well as an orchestra of 40.

In more recent times, Madame Pompadour has been seen at the Vienna Volksoper which brought back a version of the show in 1976 in 1986 and, disappointingly, in 2012, at Budapest’s Katona József Színház (16 October 1992), at the Munich Gärtnerplatz in 1995, in Ischl in 2001, Leipzig (2019) and it holds a place on the fringe of the revivable and revived repertoire where it is looked at by musicians with particular favour. In 2023 the Revue-Operette version was resuscitated in Ischl.

The Pompadour has been utilized a number of times as a character on the musical stage, even if she has proved a touch more discreet than such other members of her profession as Madame Dubarry. An operatic Die Pompadour by Emmanuel Mór was produced at Cologne in 1902, and an Italian operetta La Pompadour by Costantino Lombardo to a text by Antonio Lega was produced at the Teatro Alfieri, Turin (25 September 1918).

A silent Madame Pompadour film, directed by Britain’s Herbert Wilcox after the success of the musical in London, and with Lillian Gish in its title rôle, could be said to have been inspired by the stage show rather than a version of it.

Austria: Carltheater 2 March 1923; Hungary: Fõvárosi Operettszinház Pompadour 28 November 1923; UK: Daly’s Theatre 20 December 1923; USA: Martin Beck Theater 11 November 1924; Australia: His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane 21 May 1927, Theatre Royal, Sydney 4 June 1927; France: Théâtre Marigny 16 May 1930

Recording: selection (EMI Electrola)

art fall madame de pompadour 13

Scene from the 1930 French production at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris. From Encyclopédia multimédia de la comedie musicale théâtriale en France 1918–1944


This text was first published in The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, volume 2, second edition, Schirmer Books, New York, 2001, and is reproduced here with some additions by the author




  • Australia

    By Elisabeth Kumm & Rob Morrison   MADAME POMPADOUR Musical play in 3 acts by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham, adapted from the German. Lyrics by Harry Graham. Music by Leo Fall. Presented by J.C. Williamson Ltd. Directed by Frederick J. Blackman. Dances and ensembles invented and arranged by...
  • Broadway

    By Elisabeth Kumm & Rob Morrison   MADAME POMPADOUR Play with music in 2 acts by Clare Kummer, adapted from the German. Music by Leo Fall. Presented by Charles Dillingham-Martin Beck. Produced under the direction of R.H. Burnside. Musical numbers staged by Julian Alfred. Orchestra under the...
  • West End

    By Elisabeth Kumm   MADAME POMPADOUR Musical play in 3 acts by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham, adapted from the German. Lyrics by Harry Graham. Music by Leo Fall. Presented by George Edwardes (Daly’s Theatre) Ltd. Produced under the direction of Frederick J. Blackman. Scenery by Alfred Terraine...

Additional Info

  • Discography

    By Rob Morrison & John Hanna   Madame Pompadour Discography The following is a partial discopgraphy representing major recordings identified to date. With thanks to John Hanna of Vintage Sounds, we have links (in red) to the original London and Australian recordings and some cover version recordings which...
  • Further Resources

      Bibliography Anastasia Belina & Derek B. Scott (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Operetta, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2020 Ken Bloom, American Song: Complete musical theatre companion, 2 vols. Facts On File Publications, New York, 1985 Dan Dietz, The Complete Book of 1920s Broadway...
  • Additional Pictures

    1923 West End production    Act 1 - Tavern of the Nine Muses   Thomas Downey caricatures for The London Illustrated News   1927 JCW Australian production   Act 1 - Tavern of the Nine Muses - Joseph (Arthur Stigant) standing on barrel at centre and the ensemble Madame Pompadour (Beppie De Vries) receives a...