Following on the tail of the dozen recent French EMI
Operetta reissues at the end of 2001 come these reissues of Operetta
highlights in German. Six CDs contain two operettas per disc apart from
Orpheus in der Unterwelt, which is fully dedicated to one disc.
Although some CDs indicate a production date of 1995 this cannot be
so, because budget CDs in 1992 contained these performances of Graf
von Luxembourg and Ein Walzertraum (cat. no. ZYX CLS-4402)
and another contained Lustige Witwe with Gräfin Mariza
(cat. no.ZYX CLS-4401). Der Bettelstudent was even issued by
Philips (cat. no. 422 143-2) for the German market well over a decade
ago. The Philips booklet tells us that it was recorded in 1968 and not
the 1995 as stated in the Edel booklet. Perhaps this gives the clue
to true recording dates of other discs in this series. Uncharacteristically,
this Orpheus recording does show an actual performance date of
1970. Judging by the CD timings all recordings were originally made
for LP, with one opera per LP side apart from Orpheus, which
occupied two sides. We are therefore listening to 1960s-70s recordings
even though the CD notes may suggest otherwise.
The Highlights chosen are generally the expected ones,
but there are some variations. Where overtures exist for a work it is
a pity there is no uniformity of including them since they usually give
a useful overview of the melodies contained in that musical. Many of
these Operette titles are well known and have been recorded elsewhere
in other languages. However, Millöcker's Der Bettelstudent
has only one highlight recording in the catalogue, an earlier one by
the Bavarian Radio Orchestra (1966). Again, Künneke's Der Vetter
aus Dingsda is in a similar position (Berlin SO GD 69025) and so
their inclusion is much appreciated.
The singers are competent and have strong empathy with
the music they sing. Their diction is very acceptable but often poor
miking (even for the 1970s) hampers some of the recordings; high clarity
is not always present (but we tend to expect so much more today).
Ralph Benatzky wrote more than fifty pieces
for the stage, innumerable music hall and cabaret songs, popular hits
and film scores. In 1930, Benatzky produced a musical comedy which proved
to be a stroke of genius. This was Im weissen Rössl which
was enthusiastically accepted by the English-speaking world as 'White
Horse Inn'. Unlike the familiar operettas of Offenbach, Strauss or Lehár,
which exhibit some individuality in style, Im weissen Rössl
exhibits considerable variation. This is because Benatzky incorporated
rearranged or freshly composed numbers by other composers along with
his own. This co-production provides a barrage of hit numbers, which
have enjoyed virtually unbroken popularity to this day.
The basic idea of White Horse Inn is a love
story which is idyllically set on the banks of Lake Wolfgang (and even
brings in the former Emperor of Austria). It was an adaptation from
the pen of revue specialists Erik Charell and Hans Muller. Robert Stolz
wrote the waltz in Mein Liebeslied (My song of love) and
a slow foxtrot in another number. Robert Gilbert was involved too, and
even Eduard Künneke is supposed to have worked on some of the choruses.
However the title number, The White Horse Inn, was Ralph Benatzky's
own work. (This is found in the opening orchestral introduction of tk14
and vocally in tk17,) Audiences in Berlin, and very soon in Paris, London
and New York, happily took up the invitation to attend.
Considering White Horse Inn's popularity, this
recording is a disappointing 23'07" long (one short LP side's worth).
This performance seems a somewhat jazzed-up version of Benatzky's original
if the French and English versions can be relied upon to carry much
of the original scoring. This (radio?) performance uses a score with
much additional (and often irritating) orchestral decoration and the
recording is, at times, poor with the singers upstaged by the orchestra
almost throughout. At times the reverberation can be overpowering. Yet
the opening introduction seems superior to the French version [reviewed
on Musicweb last year]. This had some over-stretched yodelling. Salzkammergut
may be pedantically paced to some ears while Zuschauen kann I net
(tk16) is sung with authority and elegant phrasing by an uncredited
tenor (either Equiluz or Terkal are suggested by the notes) in true
Viennese style. Im Weissen Rössl, the hit tune (tk17), is
appallingly balanced with the tenor ridiculously recessed and the jazzed
up orchestral decoration hardly matching the subject material.
The recording generally makes enjoyable 'easy listening'
but is not one for those wishing to study an authentic original German
version of White Horse Inn.
Carl Millöcker was one of the Viennese
composers who followed Johann Strauss II and Franz von Suppé
and gave the originally French operetta a Viennese flavour. Millöcker
initially played the flute in the orchestra of the Josefstadt Theatre
before becoming a theatre Kapellmeister and composer in the early 1870s.
He celebrated his Vienna debut as a theatre composer with a light-hearted
horror story, Das verwunschene Schloss in 1878.
Millöcker's big breakthrough came four years later
with The Beggar Student (Der Bettelstudent), which has been rated
ever since as one of the masterpieces of early Viennese operetta, along
with Strauss's Fledermaus, and Suppé's Boccaccio.
The Beggar Student is one of the better
recorded of this series with its good balance and warm but unobtrusive
reverberation. The singers are all in good form and sing with energy
and commitment. Günther Herbig takes the score at a good pace and
this adds brightness to the ensemble and chorus numbers. The charm of
this score may be judged from the duet Hochste Lust und tiefstes
Lied (tks6-9) – here the wide register of Elizabeth Ebert and strong
tenor part of Karl-Friedrich Holzke (who is in good form) may be enjoyed.
Ebert exhibits a harshness on certain forte notes, sadly, but this is
not too distracting.
The Hungarian, Emmerich Kálmán is well known
in Europe for his musicals and the two represented in this series need
no introduction. As a composer he first provided orchestral and choral
works which were all moderately successful. The cue to writing operettas
came from the highly successful sales of cabaret songs (which he published
under a pseudonym).
The Gypsy Princess (Die Csárdásfürstin)
is an early Kálmán work (1915) and is still the one best
remembered. Here the composer has clearly studied the style of gypsy
music, helped by his Hungarian upbringing no doubt. The story concerns
an aristocrat, Edwin who loves a charming cabaret singer, Sylvia (the
gypsy princess of the title). Problems occur for him because he wishes
to marry below his station.
The waltz numbers flow with ease in Viennese style.
The waltz song Erstrahlan die lichter im hellen Glanz illustrates
how Kálmán can match those favourites by Strauss. Amazingly
it was the march rhythm of Without any women, things don't work (Ganz
ohne Weiber geht die Chose nicht) (tk5) which impressed the audiences
and put the name of Kálmán alongside that of Suppé,
Millöcker and Lehár in the theatre world. Listening to the
number afresh one can appreciate the resemblance Kern/Porter works bear
to Kálmán's style. The development within musical numbers
where song rhythms shift into dance mode and back to vocal again is
ingenious (try tk2). The orchestration is robust with strong rhythm
yet numbers are full of catchy motifs.
The piece is one of the better recordings in the series
with warm and wide dynamic range, free from the previously noticed artificial
Countess Maritza (Gräfin Mariza),
a later Kálmán work (1924), is less well known. The style
is not as immediately engaging as the catchy Gypsy Princess.
Long sonorous phrases conjure up a totally different mood entirely and
the orchestration is mellower. Occasionally, some gypsy style characteristics
creep in but since the action is set in Hungary this seems appropriate.
The plot is a trivial well-worn tale about the amorous relationships
between a countess and her admirers.
Rudolf Christ again sings with confidence and good
vocal range. The recording is not as warm sounding as The Gypsy Princess
and reverberation is more noticeable. Again, an unnatural offstage effect
for the tenor is at times provided which does nothing to impress and
in particular ruins the balance between tenor and soprano in Schwesterlein,
Brüderlein (tks 20 and 21).
Eduard Künneke is largely unknown to European
ears and a word about this composer might be of interest: Künneke
studied the piano and composition in Berlin. At the beginning of his
career he devoted himself mainly to serious music whilst working as
choir director, accompanist and rehearsal pianist. Whilst conducting
at Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater, he wrote incidental music for
dramas by Goethe and Calderón and won critical acclaim with several
operas. The First World War put an end to his operatic career, though
he later unsuccessfully attempted to return to it. But by now audiences
raved about Künneke's first operettas. Das Dorfohne Glocke
(1919), Der Vielgeliebte (1919) and Verliebte Leute (1922).
Der Vetter aus Dingsda (1921), Der Tenor der Herzogin
(1930), Glückliche Reise (1932) and Herz über Bord
(1935) were his greatest successes.
Der Vetter aus Dingsda is not a title which
would have sold seats. Loosely translated it becomes the innocuous title
– 'The Cousin from I'm not sure where'. The notes by Felix Höpfner
tell us that it is a situation comedy containing amusing improbable
events. Set at the De Weert Palace in Holland, the action begins with
the gluttonous Uncle Josse "tucking into fricandeau and quaffing Bordeaux"
whilst considering how best he might continue to squander the fortune
of his ward, Julia. Julia yearns for her cousin Roderich who has emigrated
to Batavia and now sends a letter. Then a relation of the Uncle, August
appears. He introduces himself as a poor journeyman and professes to
be the missing Roderich. Everything runs according to plan until the
real Roderich turns up and unmasks August as a swindler; however he
is clearly not really interested in Julia, but in Hannchen, her best
friend. (Operettas are surely the only places where dénouements
of this kind are possible.) Hannchen wins Roderich, the cousin from
"what-d'you-call-it" (another interpretation of the title), so that
all are happy and content to the end.
Perhaps it is no wonder we are unlikely to have heard
of the work on the strength of its title, but what is music of this
Künneke farce like, I hear you ask? His music is romantically engaging
with a Lehár feel (tk5), in many places is chirpy and bright
(tk3) and his melodies are all fine. Orchestral texture is moderately
light and at times musical development within a number would have been
Good singers and a well-recorded orchestra make this
selection enjoyable. Elisabeth Ebert does not here have the harshness
noticed in her recording of The Beggar Student (see above). The
tenors, Hiestermann and Büchner lend much charm to the songs they
Oscar Straus (not related to the Strauss family
of waltz fame) was born in Vienna. He spent several years in Berlin,
where from 1900 onwards he began composing. It was through A Waltz
Dream that he made himself known to the public at large. This extraordinarily
productive composer then proceeded to write more than fifty other works
for the stage - among them The Chocolate Soldier (1908), All
around Love (1914) and The Last Waltz (1920) as well as many
film scores and numerous songs. Forced to leave Germany in the 1930s,
Straus lived in the United States until 1948, when he returned to his
Straus wrote A Waltz Dream (Ein Waltzertraum)
in the heyday of Viennese operetta. The piece is a trivial tale about
a debonair Lieutenant Nicki. Having impulsively married a charming princess
he now lives far from his beloved Vienna at the palace of his father-in-law.
When he can, he escapes from the confines of the palace, but when a
ladies' orchestra from Vienna gives a guest performance at the palace
he is once more captivated by the enchantment of the Viennese waltz
as well as the female conductor. His princess is understanding and knows
that once satisfied by these nostalgic delights he will recover from
his homesickness. Such is the trivial plot of this work.
The operetta title suggests that it might be full of
numbers in 3/4 time, which it certainly is, and a good pace is set throughout
by conductor Bauer-Theussl. We hear a good flow of musical ideas and
Straus's songs contain pleasing orchestral harmonies. Songs such as
Ich hab' mit Freuden gehört are captivating (tk17) and here
is well sung by Rudolf Christ. One of the contraltos is somewhat insecure
with her high notes (tk16) but the singers are generally very good.
On two occasions the recording balance is purposely changed to recess
the vocalists but the reverberation is 'metallic' and unattractive.
For this reason the chorus tends to be lost in Stehl dein Mädel
and likewise a tenor is lost in the reverberation of background of the
next number (tk20). However. the sound balance is soon restored and
the rest of the listening (apart from tk27) with an orchestra and soloists
placed more forward on the sound stage is enjoyable.
Franz Lehár is remembered for his sterling
score of The Merry Widow (1905). Although always
regarded as a lightweight composer he introduced a new wave of operetta.
Many regard him as one of the fathers of the Musical. It is interesting
that our music academics have now relented from trying to ban his works
from international opera houses. We remember with some surprise that
his Merry Widow was raised in status and performed at the Met
in New York two years ago and even relayed by BBC Radio 3.
Putting The Merry Widow aside, Lehár
came to fame with The Count of Luxembourg in 1909. Later a series
of romantic operettas followed: Gypsy Love (1910) and Eva
(1911). In 1923 The Yellow Jacket (Die gelbe Jacke) was given
a Chinese setting and told the story of an oriental Prince and a Viennese
woman. Despite spectacular staging its production was initially only
moderately successful with around 100 performances. However, Lehár
relaunched this work as The Land of Smiles (Das Land des Lächelns/Le
Pays du Sourire) in a much-revised form six years later. The work
then gained immortality. In 1924 Lehár had met the tenor Richard
Tauber in Berlin, and wrote the tenor parts of his future operettas
for him, which did much to ensure the overwhelming success of Lehár's
late works: Paganini (1925), Friederike (1928) and The
Land of Smiles (1929). [Traubner who has researched the The Land
of Smiles tells us that the secret of the successful relaunch was
principally due to three factors – firstly a much improved libretto,
secondly a magnificent song for Sou-Chong, ‘Yours is my Heart alone’
(CD2 tk10) and thirdly by giving the principal tenor part to a known
star, Richard Tauber.] In fact Tauber, the world-famous Austrian tenor
of the '20s, brought fame to four of Lehár’s scores during this
period (1925-9). Fame spread through the wide distribution of his 78rpm
records, many of which have been transferred to CD by Eklipse EKRCD5,
EMI CDH7 64029-2, Nimbus NI7830 and NI7833, Pearl GEMMCD9370 and GEMMCD9381.
The Vienna première of The Merry Widow
in 1905 rocketed Lehár to world fame. The libretto by Viktor
Léon and Leo Stein gave him an ideal opportunity to bring together
the elegance of Parisian society and the folk music of his Hungarian
forefathers. It also touched the very nerve of operetta by rendering
literal homage to the Viennese waltz. What can give expression to feelings
when words fail? Only the waltz, of course! This is what the words of
the famous waltz song Lippen schweigen in effect say: "lips are
silent, but violins whisper: 'Love me!'"
In the plot, Hanna Glawari, a very beautiful and wealthy
Pontevedrian widow, meets Count Danilo Danilowitsch in sinful Paris.
He has been sent there secretly by the Pontevedrian legation to make
sure Hanna's millions will not pass into the hands of some French fortune-hunter.
This can be prevented by getting her to marry another Pontevedrian -
Danilo himself. Hanna recognises Danilo as her girlhood sweetheart.
The familiar opening introduction leads into the opening
scene with well-balanced soloists but with recessed chorus. The Vilja
number starts with some initial lethargy but eventually flows to gain
an element of reserved charm (tk7). The Grisettes successfully provide
the lift expected of them (tk11) to a score slightly revised to include
some new accompanying lines.
One track worth sampling is the sprightly Heia,
Madel, Aufgeschaut number (tk8) which is full of vitality and demonstrates
the rapport that conductor Neuhaus has for Lehár's score.
The Count of Luxembourg is set in Parisian
society like The Merry Widow, with money and various conjugal
candidates spicing the plot. The action is carried by a prince somewhat
past his prime, a coquettish singer, a corrupt young count and a rich
dowager. The high-living René, Count of Luxembourg is once more
out of pocket. Half a million francs persuade him to enter into a marriage
of convenience for a limited period of three months. During the wedding
ceremony, the two young 'pro-forma' marriage partners are separated
by a screen, for they are not even to catch sight of one another. But
as chance, and operetta logic, would have it, they meet accidentally
and of course fall desperately in love - without guessing that they
are legally husband and wife. At the end there are two more or less
happy couples: René gets his lover and the Prince gets a wife
who matches him very well both in station and in age.
To many the really memorable number is Schau'n Sie
freudischst mich an – Mädel klein Mädel fein, tk22. As
for the rest, this performance is a pale shadow of The Merry Widow
The operetta opens with a mish-mash of orchestral cacophony
and very badly miked chorus that does little to encourage serious listening
(tk14). The soloists are fine but sometimes get seriously out of step
with the accompaniment. The recording balance is seemingly adjusted
for some of the numbers but the harsh reverberation does little to help
the artistes or the quality of this recording.
Cologne-born Jacques Offenbach grew up and worked
in Paris. In 1855, the year in which Paris hosted the World's Fair,
he hired a theatre and called it the "Bouffes-Parisiens". As its proprietor,
Offenbach conducted, directed and composed for the theatre until the
Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 put an end to his triumphant successes.
The "Offenbachiade", as his contemporaries called his activities at
the Bouffes-Parisiens, included Orpheus in the Underworld, La
Belle Helene and La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein.
The Parisian craze for this zesty and ironic new 'operetta' form was
then soon enthusiastically adopted by Austria, Germany, England and
This German recording will be of particular interest
to the collector because it seems to use a score sensitively adapted
from the one generally used and thus provides a new interpretation.
The musical numbers are not those often selected for a highlights disc.
Certainly the conductor here, Robert Hanell, gives Offenbach's music
good dynamics with a new feel so that one gets the impression of listening
to a fresh reading of this well-known score. It should be added that
the orchestra is rather small in the strings section (very much a 'pit'
orchestra) and in some tracks is closely miked. I like the arrangements
immensely but the reader would be well advised to sample a few tracks
to check that they share these feelings. The overture is heard in full
and there is a brightness to Mercury's rondo Eh hopp, Eh hopp
(tk7) in which tenor Hermann Christian Polster provides outstanding
diction. The theatrical energy in Willst Du partout (tk11) is
rather exhilarating and alteration of orchestral texture provides a
fresh interpretation. The singers are strong throughout with Peter Schreier
making a particularly fine Orpheus, Friederike Apelt a pure toned Diana,
and Hannerose Katterfeld an elegant messenger. Jutta Vulpius is better
in some numbers than others and has a pleasant tone, but on occasions
tends to force some of her top notes. The lighter voice of Styx (Werner
Enders) is much preferred here to the resonant bass Edward Byles singing
with ENO on TER's CDTEO 1008.
Johann Strauß II was as prolific a composer
as his father churning out more and more good melodies, with some of
them recycled in his operettas. Surprisingly he did not compose for
the stage until he was forty, stimulated by the works of his father,
Millöcker, Suppé and Offenbach. This work echoes the characteristics
One Night in Venice (Eine Nacht in
Venedig) is set in carnival time capturing the colour, pomp, masquerade
and theatricality of the mêlée. Based on a love story,
there are a series of intrigues by which characters are catapulted from
one comic uncertain situation to another until widespread confusion
An unusual number is the tenor song, Komm in die
Gondel (tk7) sung with magnetism to an unusual orchestral accompaniment.
The short finale number gives a clear summary of this Strauß score
The Gypsy Baron (Der Zigeunerbaron)
followed two years after the success of One Night in Venice and
is memorable for three numbers in particular – Das war kein rechter
Schifferknecht (tk13), Wer uns getraut (tk23) and So voll
In this work Strauß attempts to contrast the
musical atmosphere of the Austro-Hungarian Empire by setting the first
two acts in Hungary and the third in Vienna. The idea works well with
soft csárdás melodies mingling with strong waltz rhythms.
In the plot, an estate has been taken over by an unpleasant
pig breeder during its owner's exile. When the owner returns he falls
in love with the daughter of this uncouth man. However, she rebuffs
him because of his poverty. His rank of baron is restored for his bravery
when he goes off to fight the Turks, and his initial wealth is later
Much contrast of musical colour is found throughout
the work. (Compare tks 21 and 22). It would have been helpful to have
had the 8 minute overture included but when a 150 minute work has to
be whittled down to a respectable 35 minutes this is difficult. Interestingly
the pace of this recording is very close to that marked by the Harnoncourt
Teldec recording (no. 4509-94555-2).
The recording of the two operettas is particularly
warm and has a wide frequency range. (Yet again though, the novel effect
of recessing certain singers for no apparent reason wears thin.) The
orchestra is much more substantial than those used in some of the other
recordings of this series. The singers are generally first class and
the recording presents them in the warmest light notwithstanding the
reservations that have already been made in relation to soprano Ebert's
top notes. The dynamics throughout are sensitively handled by soloists
and choir under Heinz Rögner's superb direction.
Adequate notes for this series of CDs are provided
in German and English.
Further reading: "Operetta", Traubner (Oxford
1883); ‘Musicals", Ganzl (Carlton 1995)
In case of dificulty these disc can be obtained from
The Complete Record Company Ltd
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London SW4 6BT
Tel 020 7498 9666
Fax 020 7498 1828
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