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Ralph BENATZKY (1884-1957)
L’Auberge du Cheval Blanc (The White Horse Inn) operetta (1930)
complete with dialogue, in French
Luc Barney (ten) Léopold; Colette Riedinger (sop) Josépha; Simone Sully (sop) Clara; Bernard Plantey (ten) Guy Flores; Jack Claret (bar) Célestin; Huguette Boulangeot (sop) Sylvabelle
Rec. Universal (Decca) Studios, Antony, France 1954. Mono
2 CDs for the price of one
DISCOVERY/ACCORD OPERETTE SERIES 465 880-2 [91:37]



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This CD set is one of the re-releases in the Accord series of twenty operettas. In a version by Maurice Lehmann this recording was the result of a revival held at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris in 1953.

 

L’Auberge du Cheval Blanc (The White Horse Inn) started life as Im weissen Rössl and originally played to Berlin audiences in 1930 for a respectable 416 performances. From Benatzky’s German original the work was adapted for both the French and British stage. The Paris première was held at the Théâtre Mogador in 1932. The most famous number for English-speaking audiences was 'Goodbye', but this was not in the original score and was added by Stolz for the London production. Some of the numbers in the British Chappell vocal score were altered from the German/French versions, incidentally.

Ralph Benatzky is not well known to us today. He came from Moravia (Czechoslovakia) and conducted at a Munich theatre in 1910. He went on to write songs and music for cabaret (in Vienna) and a new genre ‘revue-operetta’ of which White Horse Inn is the best remembered. His forte was in making arrangements. Casanova, an earlier Benatzky work was well received by the public and paved the way for The White Horse Inn. Benatzky did not write all of its musical numbers. Lubbock's Complete Book of Opera tells us that additional numbers were added by Robert Gilbert, Bruno Granichstaedten, Robert Stolz and Hans Frankowski.

An extended prelude replaces the need for an overture. A narrated introduction leads to a brief vocal section and then a long opening dialogue that tends to mask orchestral material and dampen the proceedings from the start. The British [Samuel French/Chappell] edition brought forward the first chorus number to provide an opening scene and prelude to Act 1 which I find works much better. The yodelling passage in this version follows the German version. Both here and in the EMI French recording there is much strident pseudo-Tyrolian yodelling that severely interrupts a developing mood of romanticism. The French arrangement may work well on stage, but since the yodelling is harsh the British version (unrecorded) is probably superior. The rest of the operetta is much the same in all versions.

In this production there are two equally strong tenor/soprano pairs of singers who could easily swap their parts; they are as strong: Luc Barney and Colette Riedinger are certainly appropriate in their pivotal roles as Léopold and Josépha yet Bernard Plantey as Guy Flores and Huguette Boulangeot as Sylvabelle are equally admirable as Guy and Sylvabelle.

In this operetta/musical much of the score is devoted to duets and one is conscious that the right voices are provided to give an agreeable blend of harmony. The duets, 'La bonne Auberge de Cheval Blanc' and 'Tout bleu' [CD1 tk.8 and 10] certainly confirm the success of the above pairings, though in tk.10 Plantey's voice seems to change to an even softer, richer tone. It must be due to a difference in miking.

At times the pace of some of the dialogue (French) is particularly rapid and there is too much of it. One track at over 6 minutes, another of over 7 minutes and another of 10 minutes makes me wonder about any success with wide international sales. The White Horse Inn has a short score and so the amount of dialogue provided was probably included to fill four LP sides for which it was originally mastered. Surely it would have been far better to condense to fill one CD and edit down the dialogue to suit as has been done with Accord's Les Saltimbanques in this series? Again, one can expect dialogue to be spoken over incidental (dance) music, but not where additional voice-overs have been put over singing to help continuity. In one track dialogue masks a piece by the chorus. A disappointing decision.

I notice the sound engineer has changed his sound-stage during the recording sessions. We get a mixture of well-balanced tracks and others where the singers are very forwardly placed with the consequence of masking orchestral detail. The recording transfer is good.

Brief notes in French are provided in the attractive card case.

Raymond Walker

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker



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