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Anatevka (Fiddler on the Roof)
Book: Joseph Stein. Music: Jerry Bock. Vocal texts: Sheldon Harnick
Sung in German. No texts or translations
Gerhard Ernst (Tevye), Dagmar Schellenberger (Golde), Bele Kumberger (Zeitel), Elisabeth Ebner (Hodel), Iris Graf (Chava), Maria Mallé (Jente), Erwin Belakowitsch (Mottel), Rupert Bergmann (Lazar Wolf)
Mörbisch Festival Choir and Orchestra/David Levi
rec. May-June 2014, Seefestspiele, Mörbisch
OEHMS OC437 [70:40]

The Mörbisch Lake Festival in Austria ‘hosts a beautiful open-air stage’, and its metier is to put on operettas and musicals. Last year a new orchestral hall was built as well as ‘expanded gastronomical offerings with regard to epicurean delights’ as the booklet greedily puts it.

This is my first encounter with Fiddler on the Roof in German or Anatevka, as the work appears to be known in German-speaking lands, that being the little fictitious village evoked by Sholem Aleichem. Of course, it’s no great shame to sing it in German but it’s no great honour either, as the singing milkman himself might have put it. I see that the festival has already put out recordings of classic operetta such as Der Vogelhändler, Der Zarewitsch, Eine Nacht in Venedig and, of course, Die Fledermaus. I don’t know how they’ve been received but this latest entrant doesn’t seem to me to be much versed in the idiom. It’s not a question of language, as operettas were habitually sung in the native language for a large swathe of the twentieth-century, and opera (and indeed operetta) is often thus performed even now.

No, it’s to do with the taste and the feel of the thing. This is a smoothed-out, polite, and rather slow performance, almost wholly devoid of panache and life. In fact, come to think of it, it’s played less like a musical and more like an operetta. There are gains – they find some Kurt Weill influence along the way, orchestrally speaking. It’s useful to hear the semi-reprise of Tradition, which is sometimes cut, and a couple of other often dispensed-with little scenes too. But there are major losses. Some of the singers sound too old, some of the songs are afflicted with far too much rubato – lugubrious rubato to boot, not least from the Tevje of Gerhard Ernst - and the orchestra is rhythmically stiff. Do You Love Me? is very sweet but chronically Brucknerian in length. Unidiomatic for much of the time, most of the singing lacks personality. It also doesn’t sound very – how shall we put this? – Jewish.

The conductor is David Levi, an experienced American conductor who has a European career in opera, ballet, orchestral music and yes, lighter music. To me though this is a New York musical performed as if it were an operetta by Kalman.

Jonathan Woolf