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Leo FALL (1873-1925)
The Rose of Stambul - Operetta in Three Acts (1916) [120:20]
Kondja Gül - Kimberly McCord (soprano); Midili Hanum - Alison Kelly (soprano); Fridolin Müller - Erich Buchholz (tenor); Achmed Bey - Gerald Frantzen (tenor); Mr. Müller Sr - Robert Morrissey (bass); Bül-bül / Durlane - Sarah Bockel (mezzo); Fatme - Malia Ropp (soprano); Emine - Julia Tarlo (soprano); Djamileh - Nicole Hill (soprano); Güzela - Khaki Pixely (mezzo); Desirée - Michelle Buck (soprano); Kemal Pasha - Chris Guerra (baritone); Bell Hop - Eric Casady (baritone); Hotel Director - Aaron Benham (tenor); Band Leader - Josh Prisching (baritone)
Chicago Folks Operetta/John Frantzen
rec. live, Percy Julian Auditorium, Oak Park, Illinois, USA, 8 August 2011. DDD
English libretto (sung in English) from the Naxos website.
NAXOS 8.660326-27 [45:31 + 74:49]

Leo Fall’s many operettas are seldom performed today outside German-speaking countries. The present issue is therefore special not merely bringing to light one of the composer’s greatest successes but also in doing so in English. This is particularly appropriate given the immense success of the work in New York, although in the event the translation by Hesh Glagov and Gerald Frantzen, edited by Bill Walters, is a serious flaw. It may or may not be close to the original German text, which I have not seen, but for much of the time it lies awkwardly with the music, is hard to understand without the written text, and is seldom couched in idiomatic English as it is spoken on either side of the Atlantic. I therefore have sympathy with the artists attempting to sing and speak it, and am unsurprised that the latter in particular is for the most part very unconvincing and even embarrassing to listen to.
The plot concerns relations between Islamic and western views of love and marriage, an ever-topical if difficult subject. No synopsis is given in the booklet notes but it is reasonably easy to follow with the aid of the written libretto. Essentially Kondja Gül, the leading soprano, is the daughter of an aristocratic Ottoman Turk who has given her a western education but still expects her to marry Achmed Bey who has been chosen by him and whom she will not meet before the wedding. She believes herself to be in love with the poet André Lery, whom she also has not met but whose work she admires. In true operetta fashion they turn out to be the same man. There are also a secondary couple, Midili Hanum and Fridolin Müller, and some comic characters. The dialogue of the latter in the last Act is especially tedious and the plot as a whole is scarcely compelling and often almost embarrassingly naïve.
All that said, few people go to operettas for their plots. It is the music that will make them enjoyable and memorable but unfortunately that is not the case here. For most of the time generic waltz tunes and “local colour” are simply not enough to grasp the listener’s attention. Whilst I applaud the enterprise of the Chicago Folks Operetta in choosing this work the actual performance lacks the vocal resources needed to bring it to life. It is indeed more of a good amateur standard. None of the principals are outstanding and some are barely adequate, whilst the orchestra and chorus are generally satisfactory but tend to coarseness.
I had the pleasure of reviewing two recent issues of operettas by Leo Fall - Die Fidele Bauer on CPO and a DVD of Die Dollarprinzessin on Arthaus. Despite some reservations both were enjoyable and suggested that further exploration of his output might be rewarding. I therefore came to this set with high expectations but am sorry to say that they were not met. I suspect that this would be the case even with a more convincing performance … and translation.
Overall this is an enterprising issue but the result is likely to appeal only to diehard fans of the music of Leo Fall or as a souvenir of these particular performances.
John Sheppard