Sigmund ROMBERG (1887–1951)
The Student Prince (1924)
Dominik Wortig (tenor) – Karl-Franz
Anja Petersen (soprano) – Kathie
Frank Blees (bass-baritone) – Dr Engel
Arantza Ezenarro (soprano) – Gretchen
Vincent Schirrmacher (tenor) –Count Hugo-Detlef
Wieland Satter (bass-baritone) – Lucas
Joan Ribalta (tenor) – Von Asterberg
Theresa Nelles (soprano) – Princess Margaret
Christian Sturm (tenor) – Captain Tarnitz
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln
WDR Funkhausorchester Köln/John Mauceri
rec. Köln, WDR, Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal, June 2012
CPO 555 058-2 [47:13 + 46:27]
Sigmund Romberg seems to be largely forgotten today, not only in America but also in Germany. At least that is what John Mauceri states in his liner notes for this issue. And probably that is plausible in Germany, since Romberg, Austro-Hungarian like Lehár and Kálmán, left Europe for America in 1909, when he was 22, had his entire career in America and never went back to Europe. But in the US he became an important name in the 1920s, the decade when he created his three greatest and best-known operettas: The Student Prince (1924), The Desert Song (1926) and The New Moon (1928). In fact The Student Prince was the longest running show on Broadway in the 1920s and 1930s! It even outran Show Boat, regarded as the greatest show of that period. Time may have put that right some decades later, and admittedly Romberg’s music pales by the side of Jerome Kern’s. And there was another factor too: the book and lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II are superior to Dorothy Donnelly’s efforts for Romberg. But let us not go into odious comparisons, let us look at Romberg and Donnelly in their own right.
Musically Romberg was steeped in the tradition of Viennese operetta, and by the 1920s it had become a bit watered down. Lehár was still producing excellent operettas in the twenties and early thirties and had developed towards more serious subjects. Romberg-Donnelly’s work has not the happy end of earlier generations of Viennese operetta, where everything is sorted out in the end, but the music is rather old-fashioned and, as Mauceri suggests, was balm for a generation who after the war saw a new world they didn’t quite understand and needed to wallow in nostalgia. And for that purpose Romberg had hit the mark.
The Student Prince is based on Wilhelm Meyer-Förster's play Old Heidelberg, first performed in 1901. The story briefly: Prince Karl-Franz is supposed since childhood to marry Princess Margaret, but he has never met her. His grand-father sends him to the University incognito to get a normal education and improve his social skills. There he frequents the inn with his friends to drink and sing and meets Kathie who works there. He falls in love with her, and she with him. But the problem is she is a commoner and he a Prince. One day Princess Margaret appears with her mother with a message from the King that he has to return home for the betrothal ceremony to the Princess. He feels forced to obey but promises Kathie that he will soon be back. But the old King dies and Karl-Franz becomes King and has to fulfil his duties and stick to the betrothal. A friend in Heidelberg dies and he returns there to honour him and hopes to meet Kathie again. Princess Margaret knows about his affair and goes to Heidelberg, meets Kathie and persuades her that for the good of the kingdom she must break off with Karl-Franz and tell him that she is in love with someone else and is going to marry him. When Karl-Franz comes and hears that he decides to marry Margaret but Kathie will always remain in his heart.
This recording of The Student Prince includes all the music but none of the spoken dialogue, which I suppose was quite extensive. As recorded here the first act takes 47 minutes, while the second runs to only 13 minutes, the third 20 minutes (25 if we count the Intermezzo) and the fourth only 9, which makes me believe there is a lot of dialogue here.
The overture is of the potpourri kind with a lively march introduction but then dominated by Viennese waltz. The music throughout is easy-on-the-ear and non-offensive and there are several memorable tunes. The duet between Kathie and Prince Karl, Deep in my heart (CD 1 tr. 10) is something to return to, and the serenade Overhead the moon is beaming (CD 1 tr. 12) is the really well-known number. There are several charming waltzes and in act III Just we two (CD 2 tr. 7), which has already been heard in the previous orchestral music, is a little show-stopper. The gavotte in the same act (CD 2 tr.9) is played on the celesta. Very nice! The serenade intermezzo that separates act III from act IV is an orchestral elaboration of Overhead the moon is beaming and after the act IV finale there is some curtain music, which is a reprise of Deep in my heart. Enjoyable music all of it.
John Mauceri is one the most versatile conductors of our time and has devoted a lot of his recording career to Hollywood and other kinds of light music. He catches the essence of the operetta style here but it is a bit surprising that the recording was made in Germany with German singers. In general though their pronunciation is fully acceptable and there are some outstanding singers. Anja Petersen as Kathie and Dominik Wortig as Prince Karl carry the operetta – Deep in my heart is riveting – and Theresa Nelles high soprano shines as Princess Margaret.
Operetta lovers will find a lot to enjoy here.