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Johann STRAUSS (the younger) (1825 - 1899)
Simplicius - operetta in three acts (1887, rev. 1999) [132.00]
Libretto by Victor Léon, after Der abentheurliche Simplicissimus Teutsch, by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelhausen, 1688.
Michael Volle, Hermit; Martin Zysset, Simplicius; Rolf Haunstein, General von Vliessen; Elizabeth Magnuson, his daughter; Piotr Beczala, Arnim von Grübben; Oliver Widmer, Melchior the Astrologer; Louise Martini, Schnapslotte; Martina Jankova, Schnapslotte’s daughter; Liliana Nikiteanu, Ebba, a Swedish spy.
Sung in German
Stage Director, David Pountney; Choreography, Philipp Egli
Chorus, Children’s Choir and Orchestra of the Zürich Opera House/Franz Welser-Möst
Recorded at the Opernhaus, Zürich, Switzerland, 2000
Notes and synopsis in Deutsch, English and Français. No text.
Menus and Subtitles in Deutsch, English, Français, Castellano
PAL 16:9 Format DVD 9 Region Code 2,5. Vision control by Karl Künzler
Sound PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 100 364 [132.00]


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If you can image an operetta made up of equal parts of Pirates of Penzance, Il Signor Bruschino, Love for Three Oranges and Forza del Destino you’d come up with a fair idea of this one. Even though it’s by the light-hearted Strauss, it is hardly a total barrel of laughs. The plot concerns a soldier who was forced to kill his own brother during the Thirty Years’ War, and was on the point of suicide out of remorse, had even written the note, then suddenly decided instead to run away with his son to live deep in the forest and protect the boy from any experience of violence or evil. Well, don’t you know that eventually the army arrives and impresses the boy into service, and the plot begins to unfold. But this is operetta, so I’m not giving much away if I tell you everything ends happily.

The singing, dancing and acting are all excellent, although none of the names are familiar to me. Video direction is sensible, but only one minor flaw: at the opening we see Simplicius as a small child; the passage of time is indicated and Simplicius now appears as a young man, but because of many close-ups the video audience loses awareness of the actual size of the actor and we miss this transition which would be very obvious to the theatre audience. The staging is elaborate, colourful and delightfully fantastic. The horrors of war are vividly caricatured and against this backdrop the relatively light-hearted story unfolds with lots of wild peasant jollity, drunk soldiers and celebration. As I’ve already hinted it involves mistaken identity and arguments over the wording of contracts and notes and at one point everybody on stage seems to end up with the same last name. There are plenty of opportunities for dances and songs, and some delightful romantic duets. But, as you can guess, some of the jokes are not so funny, and we are left with a bittersweet message that happiness can be fragile and must be seized when and where available and appreciated for all its worth.

After a failure at the first performance in 1887 the work was revised several times by Strauss and eventually abandoned in view of continuing hostile public reaction. Modern audiences are better able to appreciate an operetta on a serious theme, a mixture of light-heartedness and black humour. For a long time it was thought to be lost, but recently recovered manuscripts permitted a reconstruction. Some of the familiar Strauss tunes seem put to odd uses here, but the logic of it eventually convinces, and we are off to a vivid, captivating evening’s entertainment.

The menus selection bar is a little askew, but you can figure it out after a minute. I find no listing of a North American NTSC version.

An excellent newly discovered operetta emerging out of a tragic situation; marvellous entertainment, brilliant staging, beautiful music, plenty of laughs, some cynical humour. Perhaps not suitable for young children.

Paul Shoemaker

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