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Franz LEHÁR (1870 -1948) Die lustige Witwe
Baron Mirko Zeta – Anton Niessner (bass)
Valencienne – Emmy Loose (soprano)
Count Danilo Danilowitsch – Erich Kunz (baritone)
Hanna Glawari – Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano)
Cammile de Rosillon – Nicolai Gedda (tenor)
Vicomte Cascada – Otakar Kraus (bass)
Raoul de Saint-Brioche – Josef Schmidinger
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Otto Ackermann
Recorded 1953
REGIS RRC 1163 [79.11]

This recording has gained iconic status because of the presence of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in the title role. It was one of a group of operetta recordings which she made for Walter Legge at EMI in the mid-1950s. Many people will want the discs simply because of the magic that Schwarzkopf brings to the role, but this is an interesting recording in other ways. Just as the Opéra-Comique recordings for French opera from the 1940s and 1950s provide a valuable record of a performance tradition that has just about disappeared, so this disc brings together a group of performers for whom German language operetta was a familiar performing style. The performances on this recording provide a valuable insight into the way German operetta was performed before the internationalisation and homogenisation of performing styles.

Schwarzkopf is Hanna Glawari to the manner born. There is a glorious lightness to her performance, devoid of all parody; she creates a vivid character rather than just singing a string of lovely melodies. I don’t admire all of Schwarzkopf’s work and here there is occasionally a touch of arch-ness in her manner (something that would get more pronounced as she got older) but you can forgive her this when the way she caresses a phrase sends tingles up your spine.

As Danilo she has Erich Kunz, a long-time member of the Vienna State Opera. He brings immense charm and character to the role; though his sung performance is vivid, I would still have loved to have seen him. But you must balance against this the fact that the role is a little to high for him. He sings lower alternatives for some phrases and can sound too old and heavy-voiced for the part.

Another Vienna State Opera member, coloratura soprano Emmy Loose, sings Valencienne gloriously and she is partnered by the Camille of Nicolai Gedda. A refined and elegant singer, he is just right for the role. He would reprise it on Schwarzkopf’s later recording of the opera and in this later incarnation he sounds rather more relaxed. The remaining parts are cast from strength but the dialogue can sound a little arch.

Otto Ackerman is utterly at home in this music and it bubbles along gloriously, though the Philharmonia are not always on their best form. The recorded sound is very congested and not really something that I would want to live with on an everyday basis. One of this recording’s most recent incarnations was in a double EMI set with ‘The Land of Smiles’, so it is very welcome that Regis have issued it on a single CD.

This disc is a notable record of some superb performances. However if you want Schwarzkopf in this role you would probably be well advised to go for her later recording under Lovro von Matacic (with Eberhard Wachter as Danilo).

Robert Hugill

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