Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Eine Nacht in Venedig (1883) [92:00]
Polka française [4:23]; Polka-Mazurka [3:11]; So ängstlich sind wir nicht [2:27]; Die Tauben von San Marco [3:33]; Lagunen Walzer [8:02]; Quadrille [4:57]
The Duke – Daniel Buckard (tenor)
Caramello – Pierre Gylbert/Johann Christensson (tenors)
Delaqua – Erika Andersson/Anna Larsdotter Persson (mezzos)
Barbara - Anna Larsdotter Persson (mezzo)
Annina – Merte L. Meyer/Anna Maria Krawe/Kristina Hansson (sopranos)
Ciboletta - Kristina Hansson (soprano)
Pappacoda – Henrik Holmberg (tenor)
Agricola - Erika Andersson/Anna Larsdotter Persson (mezzos)
Coro Notturno, Stockholm Strauss Orchestra/Mika Eichenholz
rec. live, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden, 6 October 2002 (operetta); 1 January 2008 (orchestral pieces)
NAXOS 8.660268-69 [62:12 + 56:37]

Any release of Nacht in Venedig is welcome, and this one makes a big play of being a recording of the original orchestration before Korngold got his hands on it in 1923. However, this release is more puzzling than most. This is not only because of the minimal plot information given in the booklet, making it impossible to follow the story in detail. Nor is it because this is a live performance, though in this case that brings more problems than benefits, notably a balance very unflattering to the chorus and some decidedly ragged ensemble work in the orchestra. It’s due to the doubling of parts. As you can see from the cast list above, most of the roles are taken by more than one singer, and the fish-girl Annina is taken by three! No explanation is given for this very odd decision: according to the technical notes it was all recorded on one evening, so it can’t be that certain singers were taking roles on different nights. I can only imagine that it was done with the aim of giving everyone a go at different parts; after all most, if not all, of the cast were students at the University College of Opera in Stockholm at the time of recording. Laudable as this is, it doesn’t do the work any favours and, unfortunately, rules it out of the top flight of recordings instantly.

Once you get over this, though, you’ll find that the singing has a lot to recommend it, most notably Henrik Holmberg’s roguish Pappacoda, singing with fulsome richness to the voice. The two Caramellos are both good fun, though in the Lagunen Walzer in Act Three Christensson’s voice is balanced much too close to the microphone, sending me racing for the volume control. Of the many Anninas the finest is Merte L. Meyer, both in her Act 1 solo and in her big number at the Duke’s ball. The ensembles rattle along nicely, most notably the big Act 1 finale. However there is nothing here to challenge the supremacy of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Otto Ackermann on EMI and Naxos. The sound may be in mono but years of experience and knowing wit still make this the version to have more than 50 years later.

Of the orchestral pieces absolutely no information is given. They’re all reworkings of moments in the operetta, played for a New Year’s Day concert six years after Nacht was recorded. They’re good fun, but not really a reason for buying the set.

Incidentally, all the spoken dialogue has been removed, which some readers will see as a blessing but others a disadvantage. Applause is left in but is quickly and very clumsily faded out at each appearance.

Simon Thompson