This DVD brings
to light a made-for-television production of Franz Lehár’s operetta
recorded in 1973. Alas it is a film that shows its age – looking
dated, and to a certain extent sounding it too.
Chief of the positive
points is the vocal contribution of René Kollo as Sou-Chong,
Prince of Buratonga – not China as in the original operetta.
Kollo sings resoundingly in full voice and rather more sensitively
in piano passages. The series of show arias and duets in part
I and “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” in part II amply reflect Kollo’s
pre-eminence as an operetta singer in his youth. He was once
likened to Tauber, for whom the role of Sou-Chong was written,
though in my view Kollo never possessed Tauber’s elegance, particularly
in the head voice. His knowledge of the score is assured although
perhaps his sensitivity to the text is generic. Much the same
can be said of his acting. He mimes to the audio recording with
passable accuracy, though there is little hint of any emotion
in his face reflecting the passionate words he sings.
This is often a
feature of opera and operetta films from the early 1970s; with
some though it is less pronounced: see Böhm’s Salome featuring
Teresa Stratas. Here, all the roles remain emotional shells;
much more would be made of them today.
Given the production’s
musical emphasis it is a pity that the sound quality is relatively
harsh. This from time to time affects all the singers, but Pitsch-Sarata
suffers more than most. Often closely microphoned, her attack
can be abrupt and given the generally hard edge of this recording
can become tiring on the ear. Less so is Dagmar Koller as Mi,
Sou-Chong’s sister. Her acting and dancing, although done with
skill, remains forever Austrian in character. Herbert Prokipa’s
rotund major-domo pushes things further into the realm of stereotypical
pastiche than might be considered acceptable today. But it’s
a laugh whilst you watch it.
The use of the Korean
State Ballet was no doubt a well intentioned attempt at the
time to bring a touch of oriental authenticity to proceedings.
Now their presence, although well executed, sits rather uneasily
against the echt-Austrian character of the rest. Given the
long stretches of narration too many will find the need to use
subtitles – though why words are oft’n abbreviat’d I
do not know or see the necessity for it. And why is the narration
recorded in a noticeably different acoustic to the musical numbers?
As with the predictable
and sometimes cringe-inducing production, so it is with the
musical direction. The rits can be seen coming a mile
off, though this fits perfectly with Wolfgang Ebert’s old school
view of the score. All in all, he over-sugars the confectionery
to make it palatable on too many occasions. The orchestra and
chorus contribute knowingly, lushly giving life to Lehár’s musical
lines. I found it interesting to note how much was made out
of so little source material in this respect, something that
I was not conscious of before.
In my view this
release is a curiosity despite Kollo’s contribution.