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Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Wo die Lerche singt (Where the Lark Sings) - operetta in four scenes [129.52]
Margit - Sieglinde Feldhofer (soprano)
Sándor Zapolja - Jevgenij Tauntsov (tenor)
Vilma Garamy - Miriam Portmann (soprano)
Török Pál - Gerhard Ernst (baritone)
Bodroghy Pista - Florian Resetarits (baritone)
Baron Árpád Ferenczy - Wolfgang Gerold (tenor)
Chor des Lehár Festivals Bad Ischl
Franz-Lehár Orchester/Marius Burkert
rec. live, Léhar Festival, Bad Ischl, Austria, 14-16 August 2013
CPO 777 816-2 [56.38 + 73.16]

Lehár’s Wo die Lerche singt (Where the Lark Sings) opened at the Theater an der Wien on 27 March 1918 in front of a war-weary audience. Those attending must have been relieved to enjoy an evening of good old-fashioned Viennese operetta moulded in Lehár’s popular style. Indeed it was seen no fewer than 416 times until it finally closed in 1929. It turned out to be Lehár’s second most successful work at the Theater an der Wien after The Merry Widow. Today it appears to be largely forgotten and, indeed, only merits one paragraph in Richard Traubner’s history, Operetta.
The story like so many of Lehár’s later operettas embraces a happy ending. It is a story of a young country girl, Margit, who is engaged to a local young man Pista, but is seduced away from him by a painter who has been staying in her village. When she runs away with the painter to the town she realises that he is fickle and unworthy of her love when he returns to his former sweetheart, Vilma. Margit realises town life is not for her and she returns with her grandpapa Török Pál to the countryside where the lark sings and to her fiancé. Of the operetta’s four scenes the first, and longest, is set in Margit’s native countryside. Lehár underlines its rustic charm and innocence in orchestral accompaniments that so often imitate birdsong. The other three scenes have suitably more sophisticated music and the orchestra’s mocking attitude is sometimes apparent.
As usual with the CPO Lehár operetta series, this recorded live performance includes many scenes of spoken dialogue which will be lost on all those who do not speak German.
Sieglinde Feldhofer makes a delightful Margit and her entrance — she is heard before she is seen — marks her out as a true child of nature as we hear her a capella coloratura song, ‘Durch die weiten Felder’. The first act is Margit’s and as one of Vienna’s leading critics wrote of the role, “[it is] … one of the greatest vocal roles ever written by an operetta composer …”
Feldhofer impresses strongly with a warm lyrical tone expressing charm and innocence. Tauntsov is a virile Sándor full of ardour for his country lass, who is plainly quickly smitten. Their duet, ‘Lovely Margit, my little lark’ continues the natural rustic character, as well as a suitable tender quality, that pervades the first scene culminating in the great Harvest Chorus.
While the music of the other three scenes, set in Budapest, pleases with some stirring episodes, and some gorgeous waltzes, there seems to be something lacking, an imbalance. It's a bit of a let-down with Sándor much more in evidence and Margit somehow relegated to the background as she suffers humiliation when the painter’s affections waver. Two highlights charm however: the early polka duet between Margit and Sándor, ‘Who’s the man with the lovely woman?’ and the waltz duet, this time Sándor romancing Vilma, ‘Far away as in bygone days’. Miriam Portmann as the femme fatale, Vilma has an appealing timbre and she projects strongly and securely.

The vastly experienced baritone Gerhard Ernst is sage and strong as Margit’s down-to-earth grandfather Török Pál. Amusing comments on shortage of food supplies in wartime Austria occur in his Scene 1 duet with Vilma, Margit’s rival for the love of the feckless painter, Sándor, when he exchanges views about country living. “One gains half a pound almost every quarter of an hour; yes life is healthy in the country!”
Nicely produced with strong performances - an entertaining Lehár operetta that deserves to be better known.
Ian Lace