Composers Datebook®

Gershwin's operatic flop

Composer's Datebook - Aug. 28, 2023


The life story of George Gershwin usually runs something like this: an incredible string of successes cut short by Gershwin’s tragically early death. But on today’s date in 1922, Gershwin suffered one of his rare flops when his one-act opera Blue Monday opened and closed on the same day.

For five years, beginning in 1920, Gershwin had provided the music for an annual Broadway review entitled The George White Scandals. The impresario Mr. White provided the money and the leggy showgirls, Mr. Gershwin the catchy tunes and light-hearted dances.

But in 1922, Gershwin was eager to try something different: a modern, jazz-age version of an Italian verismo opera. The plot was simple: he does her wrong, and then she shoots him. The reviews were devastatingly bad—one critic suggesting the soprano with the pistol should have shot the rest of the cast before anyone had a chance to sing.

And so Mr. White pulled Blue Monday from his revue before it could have a second performance. A concert revival by the Paul Whiteman band at Carnegie Hall in 1925, and a 1953 CBS-TV production didn’t fare all that much better.

Even today Blue Monday is rarely staged.

Music Played in Today's Program

George Gershwin (1898 – 1937) Blue Monday Cincinnati Pops; Erich Kunzel, conductor. Telarc 80434

On This Day


  • 1867 - Italian opera composer Umberto Giordano, in Foggia;


  • 1572 - Huguenot composer Claude Goudimel, age c. 52-58, in Lyons, sometime between August 28-31, during the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of Protestants by Catholic partisans;

  • 1914 - Russian composer Anatol Liadov, age 59, at his estate near Novgorod (Julian date: Aug 16);

  • 1959 - Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu, age 68, in Liestal, Switzerland;


  • 1733 - Pergolesi: one-act opera "La Serva Padrona," in Naples, as a comic interlude during the presentation of his serious opera, "Il Prigionier superbo"; The comic interlude became his most famous work, while the serious opera has been long forgotten;

  • 1849 - Liszt: tone-poem "Tasso," in Weimarduring Goethe Centennery Festival;

  • 1850 - Wagner: "Lohengrin," in Weimar at the Hoftheater, with Liszt conducting;

  • 1922 - Gershwin: one-act opera "Blue Monday," as a part of "George White's Scandals of 1922" at the Globe Theater in New York City; The opera was cut from the "Scandals" after its one opening night performance; Reorchestrated by Ferde Grofe, it was given again as a concert performance by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra at Carnegie Hall on Dec. 29, 1925;

  • 1954 - Persichetti: Symphony No. 5 for strings, by the Louisville Orchestra;

  • 1956 - Martinu: "Frescoes of Piero della Francesca," for orchestra, at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, by the Vienna Philharmonic, Rafael Kubelik conducting;

  • 1963 - Tippett: "Concerto for Orchestra," at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland;

  • 1999 - Philip Glass: Symphony No. 5 ("Requiem, Bardo and Nirmanakaya"), at the Salzburg Festival in Austra, with Dennis Russell Davies conducting soloists, choruses, and the Vienna Radio Symphony;


  • 1949 - Founding of the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado as part of a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Goethe's birth.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®