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Oskar STRAUS (1870 - 1954)
Die Perlen der Cleopatra, operetta in 3 acts (1923) [76.06]
Libretto by Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald. [sung in German]
Morenike Fadayomi, soprano Cleopatra
Michael Zabanoff, tenor Prinz Beladonis
Axel Mendrok, tenor Victorian Sylvius
Volker Vogel, baritone Pampylos
Gundula Peyerl, soprano Charmian
Robert Meyer, Marcus Antonius
Franz Lehár-Orkester, Chor des Lehár Festivals Bad Ischl/Herbert Mogg
Notes in Deutsch, English, and Français. Photos of the artists. No text.
Recorded in PCM at Festpielsaal, Bad Ischl, Germany, August 28, 2003
SACD tracks, 2.0 stereo and 5.0 surround. CD tracks, 2.0 stereo.
Hybrid SACD, playable on CD players

CPO 777 022-2 [37.20 + 38.46]

 

This work was written for the "Überbrettl" (Super cabaret) in Berlin which allowed no alcohol or tobacco but featured nudity and sexually explicit drama on stage. The overture sets the scene with a gong, a sinuous oboe passage, and pentatonic phrases, and the chorus sings a hymn to Osiris, who was the Egyptian God of, among other things, fertility. Matters continue with a kind of Ketèlbey-style orientalism. The tunes are sprightly and lilting but utterly unmemorable, the German diction clear so you don’t miss any of the risqué jokes and double entendres. A few titles of selections give the idea here: "...Meine Kleine Liebesflöte," "Anton, steck’ den Degen ein...."

The title refers to Cleopatra’s (or as it is usually declaimed, clay-OH-pa-tra, as in OOM-pa-pa.) alleged use of pearls dissolved in wine as an aphrodisiac, and the show tells the stories of four lovers, one pearl for each lover. Will a pearl actually dissolve in wine? Possibly, if the wine is very acidic and the pearl is genuine, but it would take a long time, make the wine bubble, and leave a gritty sludge in the glass. The alleged aphrodisiac properties of the resulting calcium tartrate have not been extensively explored in the literature. But authenticity is obviously not a concern here. Cleopatra’s gown looks more Minoan than Egyptian, and Mark Antony is dressed in Alpine lederhosen and a green cap with a fan of feathers.

Morenike Fadayomi made a lovely Cleopatra to judge by the colour cover picture of her striking an appropriately angular "Egyptian" pose in her golden gown. The musical performance is excellent—the singers all have the proper voices for this kind of theatre and the pit band plays with the appropriate tongue-in-cheek solemnity at times, and with proper German OOM-pa lilt at others. The stunning clarity of the SACD surround tracks further ensures the intelligibility of the dialogue. But the producers missed an opportunity: a little hooting, stamping, gasping, and laughing from the audience would have made it a lot more fun, and even more authentic, especially in surround sound. With all the blank space on the disks, they could have given us some of the selections both with and without the audience participation. As it is, the audience, if there was one, is dead quiet, and all the jokes fall flat.

Apparently the absolute limit on an SACD is such that a 76 minute program must be split between two disks, but the producers have the good grace to apologise for this necessity. Hopefully the sale price will reflect the fact that these two disks are each only about half full.

Paul Shoemaker

 



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