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Carl ZELLER (1842-1898)
Der Vogelhändler
(Operetta in Three Acts)
Archduchess Marie………Ingrid Habermann
Adalaide…………………Marika Lichter
Baron Weps……………..Eduard Lehmann
Lord Stanislaus…………..Jörg Schneider
Adam……………………Sebastian Reinthaller
Christel…………………..Birgid Steinberger
Süffle & Würmchen………Muckenstrunz & Bamschabl
Schneck …………………Willy Gartner

(Recorded at the Mörbisch Lake Festival of Operetta [Northern Burgenland about 60 kilometres from Vienna] in May 1998)
Mörbisch Festival Choir and Symphony Orchestra Burgenland
Conducted by Rudolph Bibl.
ARTE NOVA 74321 58970 2 [79:49]
Crotchet  £4.50 AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

If I were castaway on a desert island with just five recordings of songs from operettas, I would have to choose the hit number from Act 1 of Der Vogelhändler, 'Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol' sung by the characters Archduchess Marie and Adam with chorus. It is sublime. While the Habermann/Reinthaller/Bibl team are affecting enough, they just fail to reach the heights of the 1970 Walter Weller/Pilar Lorengar version on Decca.

Carl Zeller ranks amongst the great masters of classic Viennese operetta along with Johann Strauss, Lehár, Suppé and Millöcker. His popular melodies are very much folk-song like and, of course, many of them are polkas, marches or waltzes. Zeller's main occupation was as an administrator at the Imperial Ministry of Education. Composition was more of a hobby and he composed songs and choral works before his first great stage success in 1876 with the comic opera Jaconde. Der Vogelhändler (The Bird Seller) was premiered at the Theatre an der Wein on January 10th 1891.

While the enterprise of budget-price Arte Nova cannot be denied, the frugality of their packaging leaves much to be desired. Well, you can't have everything. The 8-page booklet, when it comes to trying to understand the story (there is no libretto) is not very helpful. The booklet does not give the singers' register and it gives different spellings of the conductor's Christian name! On the back cover there is printed the cast list as above and yet the booklet notes speak of a prince and princess. All very confusing. Anyway, not that it really matters very much, but the story of Der Vogelhändler is set in a Palatine village on the Rhine in the 18th century. The peasants are ordered to provide a boar hunt for the aristocracy and an honourable virgin for their leader (prince or baron?). But they can only rustle up a tame pig and a widow. Then they call the hunt off and as if that wasn't enough the master of the hunt refuses to return the money and then passes his nephew as … well, somebody or other important. Into this stew comes Adam the Bird Seller from the Tyrol to claim his fiancée (or bride according to which part of the booklet you read), Christel, the postmistress. Confusions galore ensue until everything is sorted out at the end and Adam and Christel leave for the Tyrol.

But just forget the story and enjoy the bright and breezy, tuneful music. The live recording has great presence and spontaneity. The singers are all good. Habermann, as Marie, is an attractive mezzo-soprano merry and enthusiastic in 'Schnell, kommt nur alle' and affecting in both 'Schenkt man sich Rosen' and in the quietly introspective 'Als geblüht der Kirshenbaum'. The two tenors impressive strongly. Reinthaller (Adam), a light yet virile tenor has laughter in his voice as he sings the tongue-tripping 'Gruss enk Gott' with its sly bird twitterings in the orchestra, especially the cuckoo calls! Schneider (as Lord Stanislaus) is a slightly more oaken tenor and cuts a fine romantic dash; his ardent Act II duet with Birgid Steinberger (as Christel) is another of the operetta's highlights. Steinberger is a charming Christel - she has a beautiful lyric soprano voice splendidly controlled and her phrasing is like honey. Her Act I aria, 'Ich bin die Christel von der Post' is a delight. Comedy is supplied by Muckenstrunz and Bamshabel in a brief patter song, 'Ich bin der Prodekon'.

If you like Lehár's The Merry Widow, you will love this sparkling operetta, full of good lively tunes. A treat.

Ian Lace

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