Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Göttin der Vernunft (1897)
Veronika Groiss (soprano) – Comtesse Mathilde de Nevers, a beautiful young woman; Manfred Equiluz (tenor) – Colonel Furieux, about 40 years old; Kirlianit Cortes (tenor) – Captain Robert, about 30 years old; Franz Födinger (tenor) – Bonhomme, local landowner, about 60 years old; Isabella Ma-Zach (soprano) – Ernestine, folk singer; Wolfgang Veith (tenor) – Jacquelin, caricaturist, 26 years old; Chalais; Eva-Maria Kumpfmüller (soprano) – Susette, chamber maid to the Comtesse; Andreas Mittermeier (baritone) – Sergeant Pandore; Calais; Nicolas Legoux (baritone) – Balais
Students from the Vienna Private University Conservatory (chorus)
Slovak Sinfonietta, Žilina/Christian Pollack
Arrangements from the Operetta Die Göttin der Vernunft
CD 2 trs. 7-13
7. Heut’ ist Heut’, Walzer Op. 471 [9:48]
8. Nun nicht mucken! Polka française, Op. 472 [4:08]
9. Wo uns’re Fahne weht! Marsch Op. 473 [2:32]
10. Da nicken die Giebel, Polka-Mazurka (Op. 474) [4:42]
11. Frisch gewagt, Galopp (Op. 475) [3:03]
12. Die Göttin der Vernunft, Quadrille (Op. 476) [5:17]
13. Die Göttin der Vernunft/Reiche Mädchen. Divertissement for full orchestra, Op. 160 (arr. Oscar Fetrás [11:43]
rec. Fatra Home of Arts, Žilina, Slovakia, 2 -4 December 2009 (CDs 1-2); rec. 1993–1999 (CD 2 trs. 7-13 – previously issued by Marco Polo)
Synopsis but no texts enclosed
NAXOS 8.660280-81 [71:20 + 54:12]

The coming to being of Johann Strauss II’s last operetta was surrounded with disagreements between the composer and his librettists. Die Göttin der Vernunft dealt with actual events of Robespierre’s Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. A French politician, Pierre Chaumelle was instrumental in introducing an anti-Christian atheistic creed, the Cult of Reason. On 10 November 1793 he organized a ceremony, the Festival of Reason where the Goddess of Reason, ‘in the costume of Eve’, was brought into Notre-Dame Cathedral in a procession – a not very likely story for an operetta. At least Strauss thought so, when he was finally presented with the completed scenario. It didn’t rhyme with his own religious belief and he tried to back out from the project. One of the librettists, who was a lawyer, firmly explained that this would be in breach of contract. Strauss had to work against his own conviction but completed the task in eight months. He wasn’t happy about the situation from the outset and no more so when the work was done. He didn’t even attend the premiere at the Theater an der Wien on 13 March 1897. The reception from the music critics was mixed and the operetta survived just 36 performances.

111 years had to pass before it was ever heard again, and that was at the Fatra Palace of Arts in Zilina, Slovakia, when this world premiere recording was made. The story is less controversial today than it was more than a century ago and Strauss was offered far sillier librettos. Musically, however, it’s the same captivating melodies and rhythms we know from Strauss’s heyday as a composer. He was 72 at the time of composition and totally uninspired by the story, a fact even more remarkable when one listens to this lovely music. There are some really catchy tunes and his orchestral palette is just as luminous and colourful as ever. He would probably have been able to set the telephone book with equally happy results.

There is a great deal of detective work and research behind this issue. The finished score was never published only the piano/vocal score but through exhaustive digging in the archives of the Theater an der Wien Christian Pollack found the manuscript full score and orchestral parts, in very bad condition. He spent six months reconstructing the music. Finally he was able to present what the operetta sounded like at the first performance. There was also some additional material including the overture that Strauss composed for the 25th performance. The spoken dialogue is not included; just as well. For repeated listening I think most of us prefer the music only, unless it be masterworks like Die Fledermaus or Die lustige Witwe.

If Der Carneval in Rom, Strauss’s second operetta, which I reviewed quite recently, was his ‘polka opera’, Die Göttin der Vernunft must be his ‘march opera’. The march is introduced at Captain Robert’s entrance in act I. It appears several times as a kind of Leifmotif and is also the closing music of the whole operetta: Der Schöpfung Meisterstück ist der Husar. But the score abounds in lovely music. The waltz in the act I finale is in his best vein. Other examples include Ernestine’s fine song in act III and the duet opening to act II incorporating a nice and well played violin solo by Frantisek Figura.

The Slovak Sinfonietta may not be the Vienna Philharmonic but they play this music as to the manner born and the chorus is quite good. The solo singing is a bit variable. Generally speaking the women win hands down. Veronika Groiss and Isabella Ma-Zach – the latter also sings on the aforementioned recording of Der Carneval in Rom – have several top numbers. Among the men the veteran Franz Födinger is a splendid singing-actor, making the most of the lovely waltz Schöne wilde Jugendzeit (CD 1 tr. 11), which also returns briefly as the Entr’acte before act III.

The recording was made live and there is applause at the end of each act. That said, there are no disturbing stage noises or reactions from the audience. I suppose it was a concert performance. The recording balance varies a bit and especially in the first act the male singers are quite distantly recorded. Apart from this the sound is good.

The fillers are arrangements for orchestra of some of the items in the operetta. This was a common method for Johann Strauss to get new material for his own orchestra. Normally he made the arrangements himself, but this time it seems that it was only Wo uns’re Fahne weht!, with that favourite march theme of mine (CD 2 tr. 9), that he managed to orchestrate. The other titles were arranged closer to the present day, three of them by Christian Pollack. The Divertissement for full orchestra by Oscar Fetrás is an extended potpourri of most of the melodic material in the operetta.

All lovers of Viennese operetta should lend their ear to this issue. Don’t expect singing of the world class that EMI offered in the sixties and seventies with singers like Rothenberger, Streich, Gedda, Prey and Berry but the special charm of Strauss’s music is splendidly caught even so.

Göran Forsling

All lovers of Viennese operetta should lend their ear to this issue.