We saw Nikolaus Harnoncourt some years ago on TV conducting the
traditional New Year’s Concert from Musikverein in Vienna.
He did it with obvious relish.
Not having heard this particular recording of Die Fledermaus
was looking forward to a scintillating but perhaps ‘different’ performance
of this the most bubbling of operettas. I was proved right: it is
However, bubbling it definitely doesn’t become until the
final pages of act II, which is the right place to feel bubbly
after so much champagne. In a good performance one should feel
the party atmosphere in the overture - that brilliantly concocted
brew of all the score’s finest ingredients. The Concertgebouw
- recent voted the best orchestra in the world in a leading music
magazine - play superbly, but the magic is missing. This is music
that should float at least a couple of inches above the floor;
here it is pedestrian. Harnoncourt’s penchant for slow
tempos is the prime reason. He misses the Viennese lilt. Go to
Fricsay or Krauss for the real thing - though their recordings
are around sixty years old - or, if you can find it, Josef Krips’ old
LP on Concert Hall. This latter is a programme of orchestral
pieces by Strauss.
Quirky tempos are occasionally a problem in the performance proper,
where Alfred’s opening off-stage serenade is heavy and
pompous. Rosalinde’s czardas Klänge der Heimat
is viscous and long-winded but it is also different for another
reason, since it includes some extra bars. Harnoncourt has striven
to make this the most musically complete version and inserts
some solo contributions in the servants’ chorus at the
beginning of act II where, after the Brüderlein
the complete ballet music (11b in the score) is played. It is
infectious music with Hungarian flavour and no-one can complain
of the vigour and commitment in Harnoncourt’s conducting.
This is all to the good. Less so is the decision to omit the
spoken dialogue. Clemens Krauss did so back in 1950 and Karl
Böhm again in the early 1970s. Both recordings were on Decca
and both have claims to be among the best sung and - especially
in the case of Krauss - conducted. But the story, which is rather
muddled anyway, becomes more or less incomprehensible. Teldec
have tried to solve this by engaging Frosch, the gaoler who normally
appears in act III in various stages of insobriety, depending
on the director’s wishes. Here he pops in - and perfectly
sober too! - the first time after Adele has read the letter from
her sister at the beginning of act I. André Heller has
written Frosch’s texts himself. He is a splendid actor
but I would still prefer the original dialogue. For those who
are not fluent in German this solution is impractical and the
libretto, to which there is a link in the header, is of no help
since it is not directly related to this recording. It is a standard
libretto with one version of the spoken dialogue included. There
are many such versions and every recording I have has its own
variant. Moreover the libretto is in German only. There are no
The generous acoustics of the Concertgebouw give the recording
a larger-than-life feeling. When Harnoncourt has the orchestra
playing at full throttle the sound becomes almost overwhelming.
But there is mostly good balance between pit and stage as it
is between the admirable chorus and the singers.
The cast is a mix of Central European singers of various ages.
The veteran is Waldemar Kmentt, who has recently turned 80 and
consequently was in his late 50s when the recording was made.
He has recorded - not least operetta - since the 1950s. His Fledermaus
are impressive. In 1960 he was Eisenstein for Karajan - the famous
Decca recording with the star-studded Gala Performance. Twelve
years later he was Alfred for Böhm and then another fifteen
years later he was Blind, the stuttering lawyer. His incisive
tenor is as characteristic here as on the previous recordings.
Werner Hollweg, who here is Eisenstein, was also past fifty at
the time. His lyric tenor has darkened and hardened a bit, so
the two sound very much alike in their first act duet, where
Hollweg is relentlessly singing at forte. He is much more flexible
further on and is almost in the Gedda class. The third tenor,
Josef Protschka, is a basically mellifluous Alfred, not quite
in a Dermota (Krauss) or Dallapozza (Boskovsky) but fine anyway.
The little recorded Christian Boesch is a good, slightly anonymous,
Frank, while Anton Scharinger, early in his career, can be both
honeyed and boisterous as Falke. Fischer-Dieskau (Boskovsky)
is unsurpassed in the role but Scharinger is not too far behind.
I am afraid Edita Gruberova, normally a great favourite of mine,
is slightly below her best as Rosalinde. She does many good things
but she is sometimes strained and I have a feeling that she isn’t
quite comfortable with the role. Güden, Schwarzkopf, even
Rothenberger are far preferable. Barbara Bonney, on the other
hand, who actually is American but has spent much of her career
in Europe, is an Adele to challenge Rita Streich: fresh and sparkling
as good champagne should always be. She is probably the best
reason for getting this recording, though Marjana Lipovšek’s
Orlofsky is also a superb interpretation - almost on a par with
Brigitte Fassbaender (Boskovsky).
As a whole this version is not one of my real favourites, due
to the drawbacks I have described above, but it has still several
good things on offer. Fricsay, Krauss, Karajan I and Boskovsky
are my preferred versions, but the first three are in mono. Those
who must have more modern sound should try Carlos Kleiber or
Karajan II or even give Harnoncourt a chance.