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Franz LEHÁR (1870 – 1948)
Der Graf von Luxemburg (1909)
Marco Vassalli (baritone) – René Graf von Luxemburg; Mark Hamman (tenor) – Fürst Basil Basilowitsch; Eva Schneidereit (mezzo) – Gräfin Stasa Kakazow; Daniel Wagner (tenor) – Armand Brissard; Astrid Kessel (soprano) – Angčle Didier; Marie-Christine Haase (soprano) – Juliette Vermont; Tadeusz Jedras (bass) – Sergej Mentschikoff; others;
Chor des Theaters Osnabrück, Osnabrücker Symphonieorchester/Daniel Inbal
rec. Grosser Saal der Osnabrückhalle, 2012
Synopsis and extensive notes in German and English but no libretto
CPO 777788-2 [64:22 + 53:38]

Franz Lehár composed Der Graf von Luxemburg in three weeks in 1909 and didn’t think very highly of it. It turned out to be, however, his first success since Die lustige Witwe four years earlier and there are parallels between the two works. The action takes place in Paris and a central theme is how the promise of wealth affects love and marriage. Musically they are also reminiscent of each other and both are miles away from the more serious operettas Lehár created in the 1920s and 1930s. The libretto had been used before, by Johann Strauss II no less, for his unsuccessful Die Göttin der Vernunft, but it was reworked quite extensively.

The story in short: A Russian prince has fallen in love with a French opera singer, Angčle but he can’t marry her since she is a commoner. He offers René, The Count of Luxemburg, who is destitute, 500,000 francs to marry his beloved and then divorce her three months later. That way Angčle will become a Countess and the prince can marry her. René and Angčle must not see each other during the wedding ceremony and René has to go abroad until it’s time for divorce. When he comes back he goes to the Opera and sees Angčle on stage and is attracted to her. At a party afterwards they meet and fall in love at once – without knowing that they are already married to each other. Well, that’s a nice start for an operetta.

The lack of libretto in this set makes it a bit difficult to follow the proceedings properly and the synopsis is only of limited help. There are no link-references to the musical numbers. As in Die lustige Witwe there is a string of pearls of nice melodies. Lehár as well as his near-contemporary compatriot Kálmán, were marvellous tunesmiths and even though the operetta genre nowadays seems out of phase with general taste no one can deny that here are melodies galore that immediately stick. Take almost any modern musical comedy and there is, at best, one tune that tells often because it pops up over and over again.

In Der Graf von Luxemburg there are enough hit songs for more than a half-dozen musical comedies. Take Juliette’s chanson (CD 1 tr. 5) for instance. It is one of Lehár’s great songs. Go then to the Act I finale, where we first get Sie geht links, er geht rechts followed in due time by the lovely waltz Bist Du’s, lachendes Glück CD 1 tr. 16). In Act II there are more hits. Juliette and Brissard sing Mädel klein, Mädel fein (CD 1 tr. 20) and Angčle and René sing Lieber Freund, man greift nicht nach den Sternen (CD 1 tr. 22), and there is a lot more to come on CD 2.

The Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra play well under Daniel Inbal and the chorus, who are quite busy in the first act make honourable contributions. Of the soloists the secondary couple Juliette and Armand Brissard are very agreeably sung by Marie-Christine Haase and Daniel Wagner. Both are equipped with beautiful lyrical voices. Marco Vassalli’s high lyric baritone is also a pleasure to hear.

In the title role Astrid Kessler has star quality as the prima donna Angčle. Mark Hamman is an excellent character singer and creates a three-dimensional portrait of Prince Basilowitsch. Eva Schneidereit sings Countess Stasa Kokozow’s couplets with great expression - albeit a bit blowsily.

There have been several recordings of this operetta. As early as 1909 Deutsche Grammophon released nine 78 rpm records with excerpts sung by the original cast and conducted by Lehár. After that a great number of excerpts or complete recordings in various languages were issued. The classic recording in the original German is Willy Mattes' EMI version from 1968 with the stellar cast of Nicolai Gedda, Lucia Popp, Renate Holm, Willi Brokmeier and Kurt Böhme. That set is hardly surpassed by this new one but in their own right Inbal and his soloists present a wholly attractive recording.

Göran Forsling


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