Yvonne Kenny has been one of the leading sopranos in the world
for quite some time now, having made her operatic debut as early
as 1975. For a lot of opera-goers she is probably closest associated
with Handel roles but she has appeared in a variety of roles and
also been a prominent concert and recording artist. A few years
ago she starred in the title role of Kálmán’s Die Csardasfürstin
(The Gypsy Princess) under the same conductor as here on a critically
acclaimed Naxos recording. Ever since I have been longing to hear
more of her in that kind of repertoire. Well, here she is now
with a programme of mostly well known songs and arias and it’s
Yvonne Kenny has the same noble bearing
as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and in this repertoire it is unavoidable
to compare the two. Another slightly younger operetta star of
some decades back is Anneliese Rothenberger, who appeared on
so many complete sets, often singing opposite Nicolai Gedda.
Where they score over Yvonne Kenny is in a more idiomatic Viennese
lilt, a way of cajoling the phrases. The Australian diva – the
word definitely not used in a condescending sense – sings assuredly
and beautifully but feels slightly prosaic. It might also be
that Bonynge’s conducting is slightly on the stolid side. Sei
nicht bös from Der Obersteiger is so well sung –
and played – but it is that last ounce of Schmalz that is missing.
Sylva Varescu’s entrance song from Die Csardasfürstin
is sung in high spirits but here we have got a direct comparison
in the complete set mentioned above and the years that have
passed have robbed the voice of some of the brilliance. Probably
she should have been allowed to record this programme a few
years earlier. Still it is good to have this disc and taken
on its own, without odious comparisons, there is so much to
The Nuns’ chorus from Casanova
is splendid and Mein Liebeslied muss ein Walzer sein
is truly Viennese. This waltz was composed by the prolific Robert
Stolz as one of three additional numbers to Im weissen Rössl,
since Benatzky hadn’t provided a waltz himself and the theatre
directors thought that an operetta without a waltz would flop.
Stolz obliged and the result is one of the pest pieces in the
score. Heuberger’s Im Chambre séparée is originally a
duet – Fassbaender and Gedda recorded it – but it is almost
invariably heard as a solo song, and not only by sopranos. Yvonne
Kenny again sings well but I would have wished her more seductive.
The premiere of Giuditta in 1934
was probably Franz Lehár’s greatest moment. At last the Vienna
State Opera opened their doors for the operetta composer, it
was broadcast and he was hailed as the greatest operetta composer.
With Richard Tauber and Jarmila Novotna as the leading couple
it was a success and even though the operetta isn’t heard very
often today in its entirety Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss
has become immortal. It is one of the best things on this disc.
And so are the other Lehár numbers, where Bonynge is more flexible
and lets the singer expand the phrases, not least in a nuanced
Vilja-Lied, followed by the loveliest of all operetta
melodies, the Merry Widow Waltz, which she sings so inwardly,
as though Danilo isn’t present – which he isn’t this time. Her
pianissimo singing is wonderful.
So far practically everything has been
from operetta’s top-ten list. Towards the end of the recital
we are guided to some less crowded byways – but none the worse
for that. The czardas from Zigeunerliebe, starting alluringly
and then revving up overdrive, shows Yvonne Kenny in brilliant
form and she is in good lyrical mood in the song by Fritz Kreisler.
He wrote operettas too, besides his violin pieces, but this
song is from an English movie musical, The King Steps Out,
written for Met star Grace Moore.
Paul Abraham, Hungarian like so many of
his operetta-writing colleagues, became immensely popular in
the early 1930s, when he during three consecutive years composed
his three hit operettas: Victoria und ihr Husar (1930),
Die Blume von Hawaii (1931) and Ball im Savoy
(1932). He wrote in an accessible Schlager style, often catching
what was trendy at the time and Toujours l’amour with
banjo is a good example. The greatest success was however Victoria
und ihr Husar, which was played in Stockholm almost thirty
years ago. I was struck then by the easy inventiveness, catchy
melodies and captivating rhythms. Good Night is one of
the finest creations of Abraham and it is a suitable end to
this recital. Before that Yvonne Kenny has also offered two
songs by Ivor Novello. I suppose some British readers may be
annoyed if I state that his compositions are not quite up to the standard
of his Viennese colleagues. They are quite agreeable but not
more than that.
Taken as a whole this disc is a fine achievement
and the comparisons I have mentioned are proof enough that I
think Yvonne Kenny is on a level where no other comparisons
are valid. No admirer of Ms Kenny or lover of this repertoire
is likely to feel short-changed when acquiring it. An extra
bonus is Andrew Greene’s informative notes.