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8.110779 - TAUBER, Richard: Operetta Arias (1921-1932)
From his earliest career in opera, and for more than two decades to his last, protracted association with his own Old Chelsea from 1943 onwards, Richard Tauber and operetta were inextricably linked. Indeed to this day, with editions of his recordings on LP and of his films on video in mind, that affinity has been repeatedly reaffirmed, the unflagging demand for Tauber software bearing overall testament to his essentially Viennese, operetta-orientated personality, optimistic, outgoing and exuberant, yet unassailable in its musicality. An excellent pianist, Tauber was an even better, if largely frustrated, conductor, while as a singer of classical music, a specialist in Mozart opera and German lieder, he remains a model unsurpassed.
In a typical Tauber concert programme of the 1930s Mozart and operetta were given equal billing, with the inevitable Lehár Dein ist mein ganzes Herz because his audiences expected it. During his midlife the tenor was based in London where he won fame both on stage and on screen through a small clutch of operetta-style cult films, while scores of best-selling titles from operetta, shows and films recorded for Parlophone established him in popular perception as the quintessential ‘romantic’ tenor, rivalled only by Gigli and McCormack in their own respective spheres.
Richard Denemy Tauber was born out of wedlock to theatrical parents in the Austrian city of Linz on 16th May 1891. Although always interested in singing he at first showed no great inclination for it, and while his joint talents for piano and composition were nurtured at the Conservatory of Frankfurt-am-Main, his burning ambition was to become a conductor. Encouraged, however, by a period of vocal study with Heldentenor Karl Beines in Freiburg, in 1912 he was offered a contract by the Wiesbaden Theatre, of which his father was director, but opted instead for a further year’s study with Beines. In March 1913 he made a more prestigious début at the Neues Stadt-Theater in Chemnitz, as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and a few days later he sang Max in Der Freischütz, an opening which virtually overnight secured him a five-year contract with the Dresden Royal Opera.
Tauber was first contracted to Dresden from August 1913 to the end of July 1918, an association which would last, notwithstanding various contractual interruptions and appearances in opera and operetta at the Berlin (from 1919) and Vienna State Operas and elsewhere, until 1926. Soon renowned as that rare thing among tenors, a musician, he was ever in demand as a stand-in for indisposed colleagues and his (essentially lyric tenor) repertoire, over sixty operas by more than forty composers, was remarkable in its diversity. In 1915 he sang Bacchus in Strauss’s Ariadne at 48 hours’ notice, after one piano run-through with the composer, and by the time he made his earliest records (June 1919) critical acclaim throughout Europe and a reputation as a fast learner had preceded him.
Among tenors, the range of Tauber’s operatic repertoire, albeit incompletely captured on shellac, remains legendary, and the same might be said of his association with operetta. During the early twentieth century, especially in Austria and other German-speaking centres, operetta ranked on a par with opera, and such Johann Strauss II staples as Die Fledermaus, Eine Nacht in Venedig, and Der Zigeunerbaron were already standard theatre repertory. Tauber first sang the last-named at the Vienna Volksoper in December 1920.
For the greater part of 1921 Tauber made guest appearances principally at the Berlin Volksoper and State Opera, where his rôles included Don José, Rodolfo and Ottavio, and in 1922 he broke with Dresden to accept a contract with the State Opera in Vienna. There he braved the displeasure of the State Opera management to sing Armand in the new operetta Frasquita, which proved irresistible to the ambitious young tenor. During the show’s initial 195-performance run Tauber was chronologically the fourth tenor to assume the rôle created by Hubert Marischka and the opportunity provided him with a break from Mozart, Puccini and Verdi and, more importantly, his fortuitous first link with the Hungarian Franz Lehár, at that time the undisputed doyen of Viennese light opera, not to mention an early ‘theme-song’ with Hab’ein blaues Himmelbett.
The pre-Lehár Tauber was also temperamentally inclined towards the promotion of other works of operetta and during 1923 alone, in Vienna, his appearances in lighter works included Korngold’s Eine Nacht in Venedig as well as local ‘creations’ in Oscar Straus’s Die Perlen der Cleopatra and Bacchusnacht. In 1924 he sang in the first (unsuccessful) performances of Ralph Benatzky’s first operette Das Märchen von Florenz, at Charlottenburg, and later that year, in Vienna, at the Theater an der Wien, whilst conducting performances of Kálmán’s Herbstmanöver in his spare time, first made the aquaintance of his future spouse, the vivacious, Hanover-born soprano Carlotta Vanconti (1892-1964), who had only recently made her début at that theatre in Gräfin Mariza. During their short-lived association (married only briefly, they divorced in 1926) Tauber and Vanconti recorded various duets, including two from Lehár’s Zarewitsch (Tauber sang in the première in 1927, with Vera Schwarz as his partner) and one from his first landmark success, the ‘operette-vorspiel’ Der Rastelbinder (1902).
In 1924 Tauber struck up a friendship with Lehár and in the summer of 1925, in between engagements at the Munich and Salzburg Mozart Festspiele, he resided at the composer’s retreat at Bad Ischl to work on Paganini. First performed in Vienna in October 1925, the première lacked Tauber owing to prior commitments in Berlin (these included Eine Nacht in Venedig and a short season at the State Opera followed by a tour with that Company to Sweden) and was a near-fiasco. When later re-staged at the Johann Strauss-Theater with Tauber as the legendary violinist, however, the show which gave the world a second ‘Tauberlied’ with Gern hab’ ich die Frau’n geküsst, proved a resounding success.
Tauber’s subsequent Lehár creations included Friederike (1928), Das Land des Lächelns (1929), both first given in Berlin, and the Berlin première of Schön ist die Welt (1931) and Giuditta, the composer’s last work, first given at the Vienna State Opera, in 1934. The Tauber discography also offers definitive versions of Lehár songs from works he did not create, including both the waltz and the soprano air Vilja from the earlier Lehár landmarks Die lustige Witwe and Zigeunerliebe.
During the early period of electrical recording which preceded the era of the film-musical, Tauber the populist and pioneer of crossover was also quick to capitalise on extracts from operettas and shows of wider provenance. In this area among his first efforts were Im chambre séparée from Richard Heuberger’s ever-popular three-act operetta Der Opernball (1898) and German translations of both the title-song and the Indian Love Call from Rudolf Friml’s two-act Rose Marie, a major 1924 Broadway hit musical which had an initial Broadway run of 557 performances and was subsequently much revived and twice filmed by MGM, in 1936 and 1954.
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