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Franz LEHÁR (1870 – 1948) Der Graf von Luxemburg (1909)
Daniel Behle (tenor) – René, Graf von Luxemburg
Camilla Nylund (soprano) – Angèle Didier, singer at the Grand Opéra in Paris
Louise Adler (soprano) – Juliette Vermont
Simon Bode (tenor) – Armand Brissard, painter
Sebastian Geyer (baritone) – Prince Basil Basilowitsch
Margit Neubauer (mezzo-soprano) – Countess Stasa Kokozow
Ludwig Mittelhammer (baritone) – Sergej Mentschikoff
Ingyu Hwang (tenor) – Pawel von Pawlowitsch
Gurgen Baveyan (baritone) – Pélégrin
Chor der Oper Frankfurt
Frankfurter Opern- und Museumsorchester/Eun Sun Kim
rec. live December 2015-January 2016, Oper Frankfurt
No libretto but a short synopsis in the booklet OEHMS CLASSICS OC968 [35:11 + 51:15]
Franz Lehár’s breakthrough, and his greatest success ever, was Die lustige Witwe, premiered on 30 December 1905 at Theater an der Wien. It was followed by several new works the next few years, but none was a success, not even Das Fürstenkind, first seen at the Johann Strauss-Theater in Vienna in the beginning of October 1909. But little more than a month later, on 12 November Der Graf von Luxemburg was premiered at Theater an der Wien, and it was enthusiastically received, possibly to the composer’s surprise. He had composed it in three weeks and didn’t think very highly about it: “Very sloppy – there is nothing in it …” But the audiences thought otherwise and it is still among the 5-6 most frequently played. He revised it in 1937 for a Berlin production, and what we hear on the present set is based on that revision. It is recorded here without the spoken dialogue, which, I suppose, some readers see as a blessing, while others, myself included, regret it. Of course I realise the problems. Recorded live it is difficult to find a satisfying balance between the dialogue and the musical numbers, something one can rectify in a studio. I also know that a lot of people don’t bother about the plot, they just want to enjoy the music, and for them this is an ideal solution, even though, with the dialogue separately banded, one can programme the CD-player to play just the music. The other annoyance for many is the applause after practically every number. It gives atmosphere, a sense of being there, but the third time one listens through the operetta it feels irritating. End of carping!
The story is, as so often in operettas, complicated – more so than in most ordinary people’s lives. A Russian prince has fallen in love with a French opera singer, Angèle 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 Angèle will become a Countess and the prince can marry her. René and Angèle 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 Angèle on stage and is attracted by 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 of an operetta. However, the situation is saved by the appearance in the last act of a certain Countess Stasa, whom the Prince had proposed to twenty years ago. “Is it finally the third act?” she says at her entrance. And it certainly is. The Prince gets his Countess, the secondary couple, the painter Armand Brissard gets his Juliette and René and Angèle can at last live together after three months’ marriage.
When everything is sorted out there is a rousing finaletto where everybody sings out his/her joy and they all live happily – until they have fallen out with each other! The survival of this operetta rests at least as much on the music as on the plot. Franz Lehár was assuredly one of the great tunesmiths in the history of operetta, and for Der Graf von Luxemburg he lavished memorable melodies on the score. The introduction with René and the chorus is lively and sets the atmosphere, and the Faschingsmarsch that follows is stirring: it’s carnival in Paris and everybody is in high spirits. (“Fasching” is the German for carnival.) Then the secondary couple Brissard and Juliette appear and sing their duet Ein Stübchen so klein – one of those Lehár melodies that stick. Even more so is Juliette’s chanson, a delectable gem with chorus. In the first act finale we first encounter Sie geht links, er geht rechts followed in due time by the lovely waltz Bist Du’s, lachendes Glück. Lehár was also in his early works very apt at writing extended finales – a mastery he further developed to big operatic scenas in several of his later operettas. The second act opens with the chorus’ introduction Hoch, Evoë, Angèle Didier, hoch uns’rer schönen Diva, followed by the diva’s Lied, a scene unforgettably sung by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on the classic operetta recital from the early 1950s. Should be in every operetta lover’s collection, irrespective how many other versions one has. Two duets, one with René and Angèle, the other with Brissard and Juliette, are also highlights, the second of them a particular favourite. It is reprised in the third act, somewhat abridged.
It is a performance of great vitality, excellently held together by the Korean conductor Eun Sun Kim. The orchestra and chorus are first class as we know from numerous recordings. The singing is on the whole worthy of the occasion. Louise Alder and Simon Bode are a charming couple as Juliette and Armand Brissard, Sebastian Geyer’s is a youthful Prince Basil, maybe too young-sounding, and veteran Margit Neubauer a Countess Stasa full of character. A member of the ensemble in Frankfurt between 1977 and 2016, she mostly resorts to Sprechgesang in her couplet. Camilla Nylund, whom I’ve heard on several occasions, is not in her best form here, too fluttery most of the time, even though it is a classy voice. The real star, however, is Daniel Behle as René, and his smooth, beautiful, and ardent voice –Fritz Wunderlich-like – is a pleasure to listen to.
Through the years Der Graf von Luxemburg has been recorded on numerous occasions. As early as 1909, the year of its premiere, Deutsche Grammophon set down nine 78 rpm discs with the original cast conducted by the composer and since the advent of the LP and CD there have been several complete recordings. A couple of years ago I reviewed a set on CPO (review) which in many respects was recommendable. It’s difficult to decide which of these two I prefer. Maybe Daniel Behle’s superlative singing makes the present set preferable with a small margin. A first recommendation is however Willy Mattes on EMI (today Warner) from 1968 with Nicolai Gedda, Lucia Popp, Renate Holm, Willi Brookmeier and Kurt Böhme.
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