There are two currently available DVD recordings of this delightful
operetta by Millöcker working with Friedrich Zell and Richard Genée. These
productions are from the same festival. There’s a 2005 recording with Clear,
Serafin, Trosch, Storz under Rudolf Bibl (VLMD008) but this is in 4:3
format. The one reviewed here, recorded eight years later [see CD version review
] is in widescreen 16:9
format, which lends itself nicely to the ‘letterbox’ dimensions of the broad
stage set. What a delight it is to find this operetta again chosen for
production at the now, internationally famous Austrian town of Mörbisch on
Neusiedler Lake (See). Each year the town mounts its lavish festival, the
"Mörbischer Seefestspiele" where classical operetta and musicals
are performed on an island stage on their lake.
With an enormous stage width of around 18m and amazing scenery (in excess
of 6m tall), the effect of the open-air event on spectators is impressive.
For me, this televised version captures all the appeal and atmosphere of its
live performance. Despite the obvious technical difficulty of recording
sound in the open, the voices and orchestra are considerably well-balanced,
even if the chorus is a tad recessed. The video has been a joy to watch.
The Viennese composer Millöcker, a flautist with classical training, grew
up as a contemporary of the Strauss family. His compositions certainly look
to the popularity of the waltz of the 1880s (promoted by Strauss II). He
added a military style and a certain robustness to ensure bright melodies.
These perhaps account for the operetta’s success. Its vocal lines allow the
singers wide latitude for personal expression and this fact is used to the
full by a line-up of fine voices in this Mörbisch production.
Governor Ollendorf (Milko Milev) is a fine resonant bass, who with his
larger-than-life stage presence commands the attention of all his citizens
and the audience. Symon, a portly beggar student (Mirko Roschkowski), is a
pleasing light lyric tenor who soars effortlessly in his ensembles. The
Governor has released him from prison to masquerade as a prince and to act
as his puppet. He is to carry out a practical joke of revenge by wooing the
penniless Countess’s daughter, Laura in return for slapping the Governor on
the face in public. One notes that in the Governor’s aria buffa, extra
verses are agreeably added to expound on today’s political madness: this
very much amused the audience. I enjoyed the fussy, animated and scatty
valet with wild hair who generally gets in everybody’s way.
With a 1704 Krakow backdrop, the staging of the Act I Fair is impressive
with the massive market-place well-filled with the company’s large chorus.
Yet it is more of a Ball than a Fair since costume finery and powdered wigs
are donned by all citizens. The choral singing is particularly good and the
setting and choreography is gloriously presented to nicely complement
Millöcker’s stirring music. This is the setting for the entry of the
penniless Countess Nowalska and her daughters who are desperate to enjoy a
decent meal. Amusement comes when the poor Countess asks the Head Waiter for
only potatoes to be served, and with salt not butter.
The second act is reserved for the more intimate scenes and these are well
acted and well sung by all principals. Laura (Cornelia Zink) shines in her
love duet with Symon ‘Shall I tell her’, where she acts with sincerity and
sings delightfully with attractive high notes. Another warm-toned soprano
with nice phrasing is Laura’s sister, Bronislava (Daniela Kälin). She sings
well in her Act II duet ‘Through this kiss’ with her confident tenor
partner, student Jan.
A word should be said about the video’s postscript, for the last track
contains a final ‘Fountain and Light’ show set to a selection of music from
the operetta. A row of numerous fountain jets at the front of the stage are
synchronized both in height, direction and colour with Millöcker’s music.
These are then added to by a firework display, beautifully captured by the
cameras to give an amazing kaleidoscope of movement and colour. A truly
memorable evening for all present.
Raymond J Walker