RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Oscar STRAUS (1870-1954)
The Chocolate Soldier - Operetta in three acts (1908) [88:10]
Bumerli, a young ‘soldier’ - Johannes Martin Kränzle
Nadina Popoff, a Bulgarian maiden - Caroline Stein
Colonel Kasimir Popoff, Nadina’s father - Helmut Berger
Alexius Spiridoff, soldier and Nadina’s fiancé - John Dickie
Aurelia Popoff, Nadina’s mother - Gertraud Wagner
Mascha, a young relative - Martina Borst
Captain Massakroff - Walter Raffeiner
Händel Collegium Köln and WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln/Siegfried Köhler
rec. broadcast, Westdeutschen Rundfunks, Cologne, 1993
CAPRICCIO C5089 [34:11 + 53:59]
Oscar Straus (note the spelling of Straus – only one ‘s’ at its end) was born in Vienna on 6 March 1870 but was not related to the famous Strauss dynasty.
He began his career emulating the satirical Offenbach, with Die Lustigen Nibelungen (The Merry Nibelungs). Richard Traubner in his excellent book, Operetta, A Theatrical History, suggests that it was “too musically advanced for Viennese ears” and national-socialist pro-Wagnerians were not amused. Those who relish the idea of lampooning of The Ring might like to know that Capriccio have a one-CD Köln recording of Oscar Straus’s The Merry Nibelungs again conducted by Köhler (C5088). Noticing the great success of Lehár’s The Merry Widow, in 1905, Straus decided to capitulate to public taste and entered the comfortable dream world of sentimental Viennese operetta with his smash success - in Austria and Germany if not in America and England - of Ein Waltztraum (A Waltz Dream) of 1907.
Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier (German title: Der tapfere Soldat or Der Praliné-Soldat) followed in 1908. It was based on George Bernard Shaw's 1894 play, Arms and the Man and the libretto was by Rudolf Bernaur and Leopold Jacobson. G.B. himself was not at all keen on such an adaptation of his play which had been successful in its Viennese run and only accepted the situation provided that Straus’s operetta was promoted as an unauthorized parody of his play and that he received no royalties for it. A bad mistake - because the show was a big hit in London and New York - but not quite so in Europe because of political sensitivities surrounding the Balkans where the action of the story was set. Later, Shaw tried to recoup some of his financial losses when M-G-M approached him for the film rights for The Chocolate Soldier. Louis B. Mayer refused Shaw’s exorbitant demands and the film went ahead with a mix of Straus’s and other’s music but to a different plot based on Ferenc Molnár's play Testor . The 1941 film starred Nelson Eddy and Risë Stevens – although Jeanette MacDonald had originally been pencilled in to star with Eddy.
There’s a very good Wikipedia article on Straus’s The Chocolate Soldier that also details all the songs. Briefly the story is set in Bulgaria in 1885 during the war between Serbia and Bulgaria. Nadina, her friend Mascha and her mother are missing their menfolk away at the hostilities. Suddenly a soldier, handsome and charming bursts into her bedroom. He is Bumerli, a Swiss mercenary serving in the Serbian army. He is an ordinary soldier quite unlike her supposedly heroic fiancée Alexius. Bumerli carries chocolates in his pouch instead of ammunition! His charm captivates the ladies and as Act I closes all three are smitten. They all give him photographs of themselves inscribed with loving messages. He puts all three in his great coat and promptly forgets them. But he cannot forget Nadina. Six months later he returns for her but the three photographs are produced. Jealousy flare up between Nadina and Mascha, Bumerli is thought to be fickle and faithless and comic complications ensue. All is happily resolved at the end.
The big hit of the show is the well-known and popular waltz song, ‘Komm, komm, Held meiner Träum’ (‘Come, come hero of my dreams’). Here it is sung most beguilingly by sweet-voiced Caroline Stein as Nadina. She is singing about her Alexius in Act I, her fiancée and imagined hero, who turns out to be nothing of the kind. The lower tenor timbre of Kränzle makes Bumerli sound just that little bit too mature for Nadina. However the charm of their duet ‘Weill’s Leben suss und herzlich ist’ (‘Because life is sweet and beautiful’) cannot be diminished. Much of the music comprises ensemble writing - quartets, quintets, and sextets and soloists with choir. The Act I ensemble song with comic material for the soldiers searching for Bumerli and an interpolated stirring patriotic song lustily sung by Nadina is a highlight – so, too, is the following charming waltz-song trio for Nadina, Mascha and Aurelia They sing ‘Tiralala’ as all besotted, they dream of their Chocolate soldier. This number has some lovely orchestral felicities in the strings and woodwinds. Kränzle’s wistful Act II song ‘If one can, as one wants’ has an introduction that echoes the ‘Tiralala’. Kränzle has another charming if argumentative duet ‘Es war einmal ein Fräulein’ (‘There was once a maiden’) with Nadina before Act II’s exuberant finale closes with a ringing reprise of the big number, ‘Komm, komm, Held meiner Träum’ (‘Come, come hero of my dreams’). Conductor, Köhler consistently delivers telling sentimental and witty accompaniments to all the numbers. Mention should be made of the delicious irony of the orchestral accompaniments to the waspish numbers of Act II like the bickering between Nadina and Bumerli in ‘Pardon, pardon pardon! Ich steig ja nur auf den Balkon’ (Pardon, I rise only on the balcony)
A charming recording of a delightful operetta.
A charming recording of a delightful operetta.