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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) (edited by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Ernst Marischka)
Nicolai Gedda (tenor) – Guido, Duke of Urbino; Erich Kunz (baritone) – Caramello; Karl Dönch (bass-baritone) – Delacqua; Peter Klein (tenor) – Pappacoda; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Annina; Emmy Loose (soprano) – Ciboletta; Hanna Ludwig (contralto) – Agricola; Barbara; Speaking parts: Karel Stepanek – Barbaruccio; Hanna Norbert – Barbara; Anton Diffring – Enrico; Lea Seidl – Agricola
Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Otto Ackermann
rec. 25–28, 31 May, 25 September 1954, Kingsway Hall, London. ADD
NAXOS 8.111254 [78:51]

 


‘Never change a winning team’. This seems to have been Walter Legge’s maxim when he produced his legendary and possibly never surpassed Viennese operetta series in the early and mid-1950s. With Otto Ackermann at the helm and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Emmy Loose, Nicolai Gedda and Erich Kunz taking the leading parts this became the formula. The only departure came with Die Fledermaus where Karajan deputized as conductor and the larger cast required some extras, Rita Streich amongst them.

It was forty years ago that I found an LP with excerpts from Eine Nacht in Venedig and Wiener Blut, a record that has always had a honoured place in my collection. It has become worn in the intervening years so this reissue and the companion piece Wiener Blut, which is a couple of weeks down in my review pile, is very welcome. The mono sound is boxy and the string tone is thin but there is no lack of orchestral detail and the original Philharmonia can be admired both as a collective body and in some first-class solo contributions. The overture has an irresistible lilt, as have the many memorable waltzes and other dances that this score contains. Ackermann knew his Strauss! Incidentally my first Kaiserwalzer and An der schönen blauen Donau was a 7 inch 33 rpm Concert Hall record with Ackermann conducting.

Such is the melodic richness and inventiveness of this music that it ought to have been a world success from the outset. It wasn’t. The premiere in Berlin was a flop. For the Viennese production six days later Strauss indulged in some extensive rewriting of both text and music but to little avail. It ran for 44 performances. The rest seems to have been silence until there was a revival in Berlin in 1923. For this Marischka and Korngold revised the book and the score, re-ordering, cutting, re-scoring and also adding numbers from Strauss’ Simplicius. In this form it became the success that the music deserves. This was partly thanks to Richard Tauber who sang the Duke but the fining down of the complicated story certainly played its part. It is in this version that it has continued to enchant operetta lovers and it is this version that is employed here.

We needn’t go very deeply into the plot but the Duke, like his counterpart in Rigoletto, is a notorious skirt-chaser. The action, culminating in a masked ball during the carnival, concentrates on preventing the Duke from working his will. There are some piquant turns in the story but what matters is the music and the high spirits and this is as high-spirited a reading as can be imagined. In the late 1960s EMI – or rather German Electrola – issued a stereo remake with an excellent cast and with Nicolai Gedda again the Duke. It is good no doubt and Gedda is more virile but in the last resort it lacks the charm and the Viennese lilt of this performance.

Most ingredients in this brew work together to bring out the magic and an air of festivity. The chorus, who have a lot to sing, are alert and spirited. Buffo tenor Peter Klein as the cook Pappacoda is expressive, both as a singer and an actor. Emmy Loose is an enchantingly twittering Ciboletta. When the fisher-girl Annina appears in her boat, she advertises her products Frutti di mare! with all the seductive charm of which Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is capable. Her lover, Caramello, lively and warm of voice, is the inimitable Erich Kunz. Their duet Pellegrina rondinella! has been a favourite ever since I bought the LP. Finally, of the central characters, the Duke of Urbino makes his entrance with Sei mir gegrüsst, du holdes Venezia – both honeyed and with brilliance, even though Nicolai Gedda had even more go a dozen or so years later. In the spoken dialogue he is sometimes too weak, too reticent for a Duke. Karl Dönch is a whining Delacqua and as his wife Barbara Hanna Ludwig’s fruity contralto stands in sharp contrast to the other ladies’ lighter voices.

The spoken dialogue is wisely cut but enough – about ten minutes – is retained to keep the story alive. Non-German speakers may have some difficulties following events, but the synopsis at least gives a hint of what is going on.

No lover of this delectable score should miss this issue. It is unlikely that you will ever hear it better sung, played or acted.

Göran Forsling 

 


 


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