all Johann Strauss II wrote eighteen stage works, if we include
Blut was assembled from his compositions, arranged and structured
by Adolf Müller with the composer’s consent, Strauss having been
busy with his only ballet Aschenbrödel (Cinderella) at
the time. Wiener Blut was premiered in 1899 after Strauss’s
death. Of his sixteen operettas - he also wrote an opera, Ritter
Pasman, in 1892 - the first was Indigo und die vierzig Räuber
(Indigo and the Forty Thieves)
in 1871. Three years later came his greatest success, Die Fledermaus,
which is regarded by many as “The operetta of operattas”. Not
many of his stage works are regularly performed today. Besides
Fledermaus only Der Zigeunerbaron and Eine Nacht
in Venedig hold much of a place in the active repertoire.
The reason for the neglect of his stage-works is less musical than textual
and Jabuka is no exception. It was quite well received
at the premiere on 12 October 1894. That day fell during a very
special week, when Vienna was celebrating the fiftieth anniversary
of Strauss’s artistic debut. The liner-notes to this world premiere
recording call the performance “the crowning jewel of the celebration”.
After the fiftieth performance it was taken out of the schedule
of the Theater an der Wien and the rest has been silence. The
libretto was written by the journalist Max Kalbeck, famous for
his Brahms biography. He was also the one who translated Smetana’s
Bartered Bride into German. However he had no experience
of writing for the theatre. Kalbeck wrote the plot while Gustav
Davis wrote the lyrics. Pretty soon they came into conflict.
Kalbeck wanted the work to be more like an opera. Davis stuck
to the operetta idiom. The end result is interesting and quite
original and the dichotomy is apparent. On the one hand there
are a number of typical operetta couplets for Joschko, the comic
character who was played at the premiere by the great Alexander
Girardi. On the other hand it is very operatic – but with Strauss’s
typical Viennese melodiousness. There are few arias but numerous
ensembles and lavish participation from the chorus. It wouldn’t
be completely wrong to label it “a choral operetta” since the
ensemble is just as central and actively participant as the
individual characters. It is a sparkling and exuberant score
and isn’t it a pity that Strauss should waste so much of his
talent on inferior librettos; not only here but generally speaking?
This operetta takes place in 19th century Serbia. It is time
for the annual apple festival, Jabuka, where future grooms and
brides meet. When a boy is interested in a girl he bites an
apple and gives it to her; if she is interested she also takes
a bites and gives the apple back. If she gives it back without
biting, the answer is “no”. Shall I try to relate the plot?
Oh, no! It’s so tricky - typical operetta. However, two impoverished
noblemen who come to the festival to sell their castle and fall
in love with one girl each. After a long series of complications,
where Joschko, the court servant – the Girardi role – plays
a central part, everything is sorted out and they get their
girls. In the finale everybody is happy and dance a typical
Johann Strauss waltz.
This recording is supposed to be of the complete operetta. It doesn’t
say anywhere in the notes but I suspect that there is some spoken
dialogue between numbers, to carry the plot forward. If so,
it is omitted. This doesn’t matter too much. What counts is
the music and it is, by and large, out of Strauss’s top drawer.
There is no overture but instead a festive prelude with chorus.
Then follows a string of pearls of rousing and beautiful melodies.
The entr’acte before act III is a delicious piece and later
in the act there is a sensitive quartet.
The European Johann Strauss Orchestra doesn’t really exist. It was assembled
specially for this recording and its core comprises players
from the Brno Symphony Orchestra, who are well attuned to Strauss’s
music. They are reinforced by musicians from both Austria and
Hungary. The Gaudeamus Choir is a permanent body with members
from the universities and other schools in Brno. They have 45
members but I wonder if they too have hired extras. The singing
and playing is constantly impressive and Christian Pollack,
a real authority on Strauss, leads the proceedings with drive
The soloists are never less than fully inside their roles, even though
there are no star performances, but this is, as I have already
mentioned, primarily an ensemble opera. The bass Michael Schober
as Mischa is the best of the bunch and Franz Födinger is a lively
and expressive Joschko.
As a “filler” (46:09) to CD 2 we get seven dance arrangements from the
operetta. Of these the only arrangement made by the composer
is that of the waltz Ich bin dir gut! It is also the
best of them. Most of the other pieces were arranged for piano
by other people and orchestrated by Christian Pollack.
For lovers of Viennese orchestral music this is a real treat. All of these
numbers have been released before and are culled from Marco
Polo’s extensive Johann Strauss series. The booklet has informative
notes by Strauss scholars. There is also a detailed track-related
synopsis. The sound is excellent – in the operetta, that is.
Some of the orchestral pieces of the filler are more variable
but fully acceptable.
Operetta lovers – I hope I’m not the only survivor – should jump at the
opportunity to add an “unknown” Johann Strauss operetta to their
See also Review
by Simon Thompson