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Emmerich KÁLMÁN (1882-1953)
The Duchess of Chicago - Operetta in two Acts (1928)
Libretto by: Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald
King Pankraz XXVII of Sylvaria ... Peter Matic
Sándor Boris, Crown Prince of Sylvaria ... Mehrzad Montazeri
Miss Mary Lloyd of Chicago ... Norine Burgess
Princess Rosemarie of Morenien ... Renée Schüttengruber
James Jacques Bondy ... Wolfgang Gratshmaier
Count Bojazowitsch, Finance Minister of Sylvaria ... Josef Luftensteiner
Marquis Perolin, Minister of State, Sylvania ... Sándor Németh
Count Negresco ... Christian Drescher
Tihány, Directior of the Grill American ... Gernot Kranner
Princess Soljanka of Morenien ... Florentina Kubizek
Kupp Mihály, Gypsy Leader ... Aliosha Biz
Choir, Orchestra and Children’s Company of der Volksoper Wien
Bühnenorchester der Wiener Staatsoper/Michael Tomaschek
rec. Vienna Volksoper, Autumn 2004, part of rediscovered music programme.
CAPRICCIO DVD 93509 [145:00]

Kálmán’s The Duchess of Chicago was premiered in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on 5 April 1928 at a time when operetta was on its last legs and about to be superseded by the musicals of first Broadway then Hollywood. The Duchess represents a cultural clash between East and West: Europe’s elegant tradition of the waltz and the czardas versus the thrusting youthful brashness of the Charleston and the foxtrot.

As is the way with operetta the plot is thin and rather silly. Nine daughters of seriously rich Americans meet in the Young Ladies Club of New York. Mary Lloyd, believing that there is nothing that money cannot buy, wagers a $1 million that she can ensnare a Prince into marriage within a month. Thereupon the daughters embark for Europe and Mary for the tiny bankrupt state of Sylvania. There, after the usual series of misunderstandings she meets, seduces and then falls in love with the Crown Prince Sándor Boris.

This is a live performance recording made from the stage of the Vienna Volksoper in the Autumn of 2004. The lighting, at times, is rather dim and the sets are minimal with a backdrop that suggests a cinema screen - the second male lead, James Jacques Bondy, is a movie house projectionist with dreams of grandeur as a film director. Quite bizarrely, in Act II, this screen suddenly comes to life with cartoon characters of a cowboy and an Indian in a canoe introducing one of the few memorable numbers (song and ballet) of the show – ‘Rose of the Prairie’ – "Come into my little love boat".

The costumes are colourful and sometimes quite bizarre – especially for the Act II ‘angels’ sequence and particularly embarrassing for the duet of Bondy and his love interest Princess Rosemarie – nicely sung by the vivacious Renée Schüttengruber - who was originally intended for the Crown Prince. The scarlet costume that Norine Burgess as Mary Lloyd has to wear during most of the proceedings does nothing for her figure and indeed it makes her look quite beefy. Ms Burgess never looks truly comfortable in this role, her dancing tends to be stiff and her contralto timbre, although colourful in the lower registers, can be somewhat shrill at the top. One feels that somebody younger, more petite, more coquettish would probably have sparked real chemistry between Mary Lloyd and Mehrzad Montazeri, the handsome and debonair Crown Prince who shines in all his numbers.

Josef Luftensteiner and Sándor Németh offer sterling support as the ministers of state and their comic duet, taking off politics, is one of the highlights of the show. Wolfgang Gratschmaier’s Brody whose imaginary film direction acts as a kind of narration is breathlessly energetic and Peter Matic scores as the old roué, King Pankraz.

Besides, ‘Rose of the Prairie’ there are one or two outstanding musical numbers including the ‘twenties’ dance routines in New York, Sándor and the choir’s heartfelt paean to Vienna, and the charming ‘Kindersmarsch’ with Sándor and the young princes.

Something of a curate’s egg, then. Moments of sparkling vivacity interposed with much longer periods of languor. East meeting rather uncomfortably with the West.

Ian Lace

see also review by Anne Ozorio



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