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Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron) - Operetta in Three Acts. Libretto by Ignatz Schnitzer (1885)
Nicolai Gedda (tenor) – Barinkay; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) – Saffi; Erich Kunz (baritone) – Zsupán; Erika Köth (soprano) – Arsena; Gertrude Burgsthaler-Schuster (contralto) – Czipra; Willy Ferenz (bass; Karel Stepanek (speaking role) – Carnero;  Monica Sinclair (contralto) & Lea Seidl (speaking role) – Mirabella; Josef Schmidinger (bass) – Ottokar; Hermann Prey (baritone) – Count Homonay; Erich Paulik (bass) – Pali; Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus/Otto Ackermann
rec. 18-21, 26, 28 and 31 May and 25 September 1954, Kingsway Hall, London
Appendix: Historical Recordings of Music from The Gypsy Baron
So elend und so true … O habet Acht (act I) [2:44]
Elisabeth Rethberg (soprano), Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann
rec. 21 May 1930, Berlin
Er ist Baron (act I Finale) [3:40]
Ein Fürstenkind, ein Wunder ist gescheh’n (act II Finale) [4:05]
Lotte Lehmann (soprano), Karin Branzell (sontralto), Grete Merrem-Nikish (soprano), Richard Tauber (tenor), Waldemar Stägemann (bass), Hanns Lange (tenor), Berlin State Opera Orchestra and Chorus/Frieder Weissmann
rec. 17 December 1928, Berlin
Schatz-Walzer, Op. 418 [7:39]
Berlin State Opera Orchestra/Leo Blech
rec. 28 March 1929, Beethovensaal, Berlin
NAXOS 8.111329-30 [56:01 + 62:09]


Experience Classicsonline

This is the last in the series of six Viennese operettas that Columbia recorded with the Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra in London in the mid-1950s, masterminded by producer Walter Legge, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicolai Gedda and Erich Kunz in leading roles. They were conducted by Otto Ackermann – apart from Die Fledermaus where Herbert von Karajan waved the baton. Recorded in the autumn of 1954 Der Zigeunerbaron was for some reason withheld for several years and wasn’t issued until the autumn of 1958.

Ackermann had a marvellous feeling for the Viennese music – he was a fine Mozartean too. One of my first LPs was a coupling of Richard Strauss’s two most popular symphonic poems, Till Eulenspiegel and Don Juan. As in the rest of the series he moulds the music with unerring taste and with alluring ritardandi and accelerandi. The overture, albeit not as well known as the one for Die Fledermaus, is still a very fine piece of music. With sparkling playing from the Philharmonia it is a tempting opening to this evening together with Strauss in great form and the fine cast of singers in high spirits. The Philharmonia Chorus hardly ever disappoints and during these sessions they were really in the mood. The mono recording is fully acceptable even today, though the opening chorus is a bit dim.

The music of Der Zigeunerbaron is hardly inferior to Die Fledermaus and the reason for its comparative neglect is primarily the tricky libretto. Outside the German-speaking world it is rarely staged nowadays. According to Malcolm Walker’s liner-notes it hasn’t been performed in Britain since a Sadler’s Wells production in 1964. The Metropolitan Opera in New York mounted a production in 1959 that ran for only two seasons and a mere ten performances. On record it has been more successful. Almost contemporaneous with the Ackermann set was a production with Austrian Radio forces under Robert Stolz with Hans Hopf as Sandor Barinkay. EMI re-recorded it in stereo around 1970 with Chorus and Orchestra from the Bavarian State Opera under Franz Allers. Nicolai Gedda and Hermann Prey repeated their roles from the Ackermann set. There was also Kurt Böhme as Zsupán, Grace Bumbry as Saffi and Rita Streich a lovely Arsena. This is a wholly delightful recording. In the mid-1990s Nikolaus Harnoncourt recorded the work for Teldec – due for reissue – and there are also a couple of DVDs: a 1975 set under Kurt Eichhorn with Siegfried Jerusalem as Barinkay and a much later effort from the Seefestspiele Mörbisch under Rudolf Bibl. The Allers set I have lived with for many years and I am not going to part with it even though the LPs are worn today. Hearing the Ackermann set in full for the first time convinced me that it is at least as good as the Allers and in several respects it goes one better.

I have already touched on one such respect: the conducting of Otto Ackermann. For all his deep experience in the field of operetta and musical, Franz Allers doesn’t find that echt-Wienerisch lilt that obviously is second nature to Ackermann. By his side Allers is a bit prosaic. Viennese charm – though the action takes place in Hungary – is what Ackermann radiates. Nicolai Gedda’s later self is more outgoing and probably more in character than his more sleeked down early reading. He is virile and springy and elegant, features that characterize him all through his many fine operetta recordings. Hermann Prey in what must be one of his earliest recordings – he was 25 at the time – has tremendous ‘go’ in his entrance song and he is youthful and sappy of voice – slightly less so in his later incarnation. The third central male character, the pig-breeder Zsupán, was sung by the boisterous Kurt Böhme on the Allers set – a true buffo bass. Erich Kunz for Ackermann is leaner and more insinuating and his Viennese dialect lends his reading a charm that may not be quite in character with the role, but who cares when he pulls so many strings in his inimitable way?

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is another inimitable singer and her Saffi is a portrait to set beside her Rosalinda and Hanna Glawari. Just listen to her cajoling the phrases so seductively in the duet with Barinkay Wer uns getraut?. It is slow, almost dangerously so, but so exquisitely carried through. This is a magic moment when time stands still. Grace Bumbry isn’t bad on the Allers set but she isn’t quite as close to Heaven as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Erika Köth is a glittering Arsena, comparable to Rita Streich for Allers. The great surprise for me was the fruity contralto of Gertrude Burgsthaler-Schuster, whom I can’t remember hearing before, not even having heard of. She may not be the star of the performance – with the names already mentioned in the cast one really has to be someone to make one’s mark – but suffice to say that she is more than worthy of the illustrious company.

Quirky story or not, Der Zigeunerbaron is definitely an operetta worth anyone’s attention. In this superb rendition it should adorn any collection. It isn’t complete: Walter Legge made some quite heavy excisions, but I can’t say that this is very damaging and there is a fair amount of spoken dialogue to keep the story together. Unlike a recent Lehár issue the dialogue is quite closely recorded. With moderate knowledge of German it is rather easy to follow the proceedings with Keith Anderson’s synopsis at hand.

This recording has claims to be a classic to the same extent as the other recordings in this series. It should be in every true operetta lover’s collection.

Göran Forsling



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