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Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Giuditta - Musical Comedy in Five Scenes (1934) [129.13]
Giuditta - Edda Moser
Octavio - Nicolai Gedda
Anita - Brigitte Lindner
Pierrino - Martin Finke
Antonio - Ludwig Baumann
Manuele Biffi - Klaus Hirte
Lord Barrymore - Jürgen Jung
Martini - Günter Wewel
Münchner Konzertchor and Münchner Rundfunkorchester/Willi Boskovsky
rec. Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, Germany, 7-10 June 1983 and 27-30 July 1984
EMI ELECTROLA 6150902 [57.56 + 71.17]

I will confess that I have had an affection for Lehár’s Giuditta, ever since I heard a 1959 album of its highlights (Decca London 400 900-2) with Hilde Gueden and Waldemar Kmentt. Giuditta was Lehár’s last production and, in my estimation, a masterpiece. Yet it seems to be so little regarded today. As far as I can ascertain there is only one DVD (Mörbisch Festival production) and I hear of so few stage productions. Why? - especially when experts agree that it approaches the realms of opera more than any other of Lehár’s operettas, with its scintillating, beautifully crafted music, requiring a larger orchestra, and its melodramatic story that is not unlike Bizet’s Carmen. The fact that Giuditta’s première was given at the Vienna State Opera, starring Jarmila Novotná  and  Richard Tauber  in the leading roles, underlines this impression. Add to this the fact that earlier Lehár operettas had been pointing this way - those with a tragic seam and unhappy endings such as: Der Zarewitsch, Das Land des Lächelns and Frederike. It seems even more puzzling when its hit number, ‘Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss’ (My lips kiss with such passion) is known so well and performed reasonably frequently on stage (and at the Proms!). That song can be seen in numerous versions on YouTube, including Anna Netrebko's.
 
So why did Giuditta not catch on? After all it featured a number of attractive tunes? Maybe it was out of joint with the times? 1934 saw increasing unrest in Europe with the rise of the Nazis. This might have influenced Austrian opinion with the Anschluss only four years into the future. Moreover tonal music was giving way to the atonal. Probably Giuditta puzzled audiences who didn’t know whether to appreciate it as opera or operetta. My own opinion, for what it’s worth, adds another reason and that is that the downbeat ending taken over the last two scenes could demoralise an audience, rubbing in Octavio’s heartbreak too much; surely the two scenes might have been better combined?
 
As an aside but pertinent I feel, there is an interesting similarity between Giuditta and Puccini’s La Rondine. The latter had been conceived as an operetta rather than an opera but, in the end, it didn’t seem to slot into either category. On acount of this idiosyncrasy it languished unloved and little performed even though its music was so appealing. Fortunately superstars Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna championed it, recording it for EMI Classics in 1997; it won  Gramophone's  top award as their 'Recording of the Year'). They also starred together in the 2002 Royal Opera House performance. When I wrote an appreciation and comparative reviews of audio recordings of La Rondine back in the year 2000, I bemoaned the lack of recordings, performances and DVDs at that time. The situation has changed quite dramatically since then. Maybe the time has come for a similar rescue effort for Giuditta?
 
Briefly, the story concerns carefree soldier Octavio; carefree that is until he meets the sultry Giuditta who is married to the boring Manuele. Love and passion are sparked; Octavio is enslaved and the couple run off together from the southern Mediterranean seaport to a garrison town in North Africa. Here they are parted when duty calls. Giuditta tries, in vain, to stop her lover leaving. She says she is accursed as is every man who loves her. The next scene is in the Alcazar Night Club in a North African City where Giuditta is the star singer. She attracts the attentions of Lord Barrymore and goes off with him just as Octavio - now a deserter - sees them go. Octavio is heart-broken. He sinks into degradation and in the last scene, four years later, he is reduced to playing piano in a hotel bar. Giuditta, now Barrymore’s mistress, sees him. She declares that she still loves him but it is too late; Octavio is too broken to respond.
 
With this recording, as usual we have a pitifully incomplete booklet, in German and English, with no plot synopsis. What we do have though is an erudite essay on Giuditta by Ingo Dorfmüller. He mentions that Lehár’s mature works, and especially Giuditta, had been inspired by the shimmering harmonies and elaborate instrumentation of Puccini, Strauss, Korngold and Schreker. This is very clear in the opening orchestral prelude which has the very essence of North African allure. Tragic overtones signify at once that this is not going to be a happy story; although, the customary operetta supporting buffo couple, Anita and Pierrino, are present. As Dorfmüller sagaciously observes, “While Lehár was busy elevating operetta to the temple of high art … the waltz (its traditional basis) was being replaced by the foxtrot and the musical was waiting in the wings…”
 
Willy Boskovsky, clearly no stranger to the genre, provides a strong, scintillating accompaniment to the singers and his Münchner Rundfunkorchester play their hearts out for him. Nicolai Gedda, long one of my favourite tenors, is supremely expressive as the hapless Octavio. He is cockily confident of his prowess with the ladies in his early ‘Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert! … O signora, o signorina’ then quickly falls under the spell of his femme fatale, Giuditta, who dreams of a man who can make her really happy - ‘Ah! Wohin, wohin will es mich treiben’. Edda Moser’s Giuditta spins sensual allure and wild danger aplenty to exotic languorous African rhythms. Moser’s tonal range is remarkable, her projection strong. All her charisma is magnified in her famous night club song, ‘Meine Lippen …’. The lovers' duet in the North African garrison town during their brief spell of happiness, ‘Schön wie die blaue Sommernacht’ is magical. Gedda ably, fervidly supports Moser’s ecstatic flights. In turn, in scene three Octavio sings passionately of his love for Giuditta declaring she is his sun and destiny in another of the show’s hit numbers, the lovely ‘Welch Tiefes Rätsel!...Du bist meine Sonne!’ Shortly afterwards she vents her fury when he abandons her as his soldierly duty summons him. Later, Gedda, as the operetta reaches its sad ending, is so affectingly broken as he sings of the wreckage of his dreams in ‘Schönste der Frau’n’.
 
The supporting team of lyric soprano Brigitte Lindner as Anita and Martin Finke as an equally lighter-weight Pierrino give welcome relief from the sadness. They both shine brightly through all their duets from the beginning of the story when Pierrino sells his fruit, his barrow and his donkey to finance a new life for them as entertainers. They also delight in their ecstatic fourth scene when they look forward to a blissful married life together. Lindner has a most impressive coloratura range.
 
An impressive and expressive Giuditta. Come on Arthaus or Opus Arte let’s have a Giuditta DVD.
 
Ian Lace


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