> Edel Operette series [RW]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Operette Series
Ralph BENATZKY (1884-1957)

Im Weissen Rössl (The White Horse Inn) 1930
Karl MILLÖCKER (1842-1899)

Der Bettelstudent (The Beggar Student) 1882, rec. 1968
EDEL 0732CCC [71.08]
Emmerich KÁLMÁN (1882-1953)

Die Csardasfürstin (The Gipsy Princess) 1915
Gräfin Mariza (Countess Maritza) 1924
EDEL 0742 CCC [76.37]
Eduard KÜNNEKE (1885-1953)

Der Vetter aus Dingsda (The Cousin from I'm not sure where?) 1921
Oscar STRAUS (1870-1954)

Ein Waltzertraum (A Waltz Dream) 1907
EDEL 0342CCC [78.19]
Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)

Die Lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow) 1929
Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count of Luxembourg) 1909
EDEL 0722CCC [70.44]
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Orpheus in der Unterwelt (Orpheus in the Underworld) 1858, rec.1969
EDEL 0342CCC [50.51]
Johann STRAUß II (1825-1899)

Eine Nacht in Venedig (One Night in Venice) 1883, rec.1970
Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gipsy Baron) 1885, rec.1968
EDEL 0772CCC [79.12]
Dresdner Philharmonic/Hanell and Rögner and Neuhaus; Landesbuhnen Sachsen/Widlak; Leipzig/Herbig and Rögner; Wiener Volksoper/Bauer-Theussl and Gruber
Rec. Germany between 1966 – c.1975

 

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 Judging by the CD timings all recordings were originally made for LP, with one opera per LP side apart from Orpheus, which occupied two sides.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 reverberation.

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 welcomed.

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 sing.

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 native Austria.

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 score

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 Spain.

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 of Offenbach.

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 prevails.

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 (tk12).

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 Fröhlichkeit (tk25).

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 restored.

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)
Raymond Walker

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