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Pristine Classical


Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus (1874) [89.47]

(Original German libretto by Haffner and Genée after Le Reveillonby Meilhac and Halévy; English libretto by Garson Kenin; English lyrics by Howard Dietz)
Rosalinda – Ljuba Welitsch (soprano)
Adele – Lily Pons (soprano)
Alfred – Richard Tucker (tenor)
Gabriel von Eisenstein – Charles Kullman (tenor)
Prince Orlofsky – Martha Lipton (mezzo)
Dr Falke – John Brownlee (baritone)
Frank – Clifford Harvuot (baritone)
Dr Blind – Paul Franke (tenor)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Eugene Ormandy
rec. 24, 29 December 1950, 7 January 1951, Columbia 30th Street Studios, New York City
Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO030 [34.05 + 55.42]


Experience Classicsonline

I found reviewing this set a singularly underwhelming experience. I have no objection in principle to “Die Fledermaus” being performed in English, but while Howard Dietz’s snappy, American lyrics must have seemed quite fresh and innovative in 1950 they now seem a little faded. Hence we have Adele trilling, “If you wangle/Every angle/You can get yourself a spangle” – hmmm; maybe it’s your cup of tea – but it’s not mine. Some new profundities are attempted; thus “Herr Chevalier” becomes a would-be humorous metaphysical speculation on the after-life: “When we are gone, where do we go? Below, below, below.” The score is cut to ribbons and the dialogue wholly re- written in this simplified version, so many subtleties are lost, yet, inexplicably, even though the complete running time is a mere hour and a half, space was found in this studio recording to import the seven minute waltz from “Roses from the South” as a ballet number. There is little feeling of a Viennese ball about this updating.

All of this would matter little if the performance itself were more engaging. Alas; no. I was immediately put off by the impenetrable accents of both Ljuba Welitsch and Lily Pons, who mangle English such that one struggles to comprehend their witticisms. Neither sings especially well; Welitsch was a major artist and she understands the idiom – whatever that is by the time this Viennese favourite has been so comprehensively hi-jacked – but one has only to turn to Schwarzkopf or Güden to hear how the role of Rosalinde should be sung; both bring so much more charm and allure to their assumptions of this gift of a part. Even if Welitsch’s singing had been more nuanced, the whole point of the Czardas is, in any case, lost in Dietz’s frankly rather weird version. Pons attempt to sparkle, but the voice is worn and the runs aspirated. Indeed, so many of the singers sound tired, past their best, or simply very ordinary. Blessed relief comes in the form of Richard Tucker’s virile and sprightly Alfred and we discover that in addition to his manifold talents we may add a keen sense of humour. Otherwise, both John Brownlee’s dry Falke and Charles Kullman’s bland Eisenstein are way past their yell-by dates and Martha Lipton brings little distinction of voice or characterisation to her Prince Orlofsky. It is scant consolation that Clifford Harvuot isn’t bad as Frank.

Ormandy is out of his element in this idiom. He pushes too hard and there is little affection or lilt in his direction. The chorus bawl their way through their numbers as if trying to inject some joie de vivre into this joyless enterprise. This was a successful stage production planned by Rudolf Bing in his first season as general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, but it hardly translates onto record. Apart from acknowledging its value as a souvenir of a landmark production and testimony to the versatility of Richard Tucker, the Met’s gifted “house-tenor”, I am at a loss to understand why Mark Obert –Thorn thought it worth the application of his talents to re-engineer it. The mono sound is crisp and pleasant on the ear. In his note, Obert-Thorn tells us that despite the “common criticism of this recording … that it was not echt Wienerisch enough” it is “rather an opportunity to hear some wonderful singers having a great time”. I am afraid that I do not hear it like that at all. This same performance is now also available on Naxos – but I suspect that it will soon fall out of their catalogue. “Die Fledermaus” has, by and large, led a charmed life on disc and I urge you to turn to either of Karajan’s recordings: the 1955 set with a smoky, sensuous Schwarzkopf as Rosalinde or the scintillating Hilde Güden in the1960 gala performance. Failing that, another set from the same year as this Metropolitan recording is as recommendable as the Met version is not: Clemens Krauss with the desired echt Wienerisch cast and company again headed by the wonderful Hilde Güden – and, as a bonus, a 1951 “New Year Concert”.

Ralph Moore




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