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Richard Traubner
American Record Guide, July 2009

Fuerstin Ninetta was Johann Strauss’s 13th operetta. Perhaps that is an unlucky number. Very few, including this writer, have heard it, and few have even heard of it.

One can perhaps see why it has been in limbo since its premiere at the Theater an der Wien in 1893. Strauss already had behind him his greatest operetta triumphs, from Die Fledermaus to The Gypsy Baron. An opera-comique produced a season before Ninetta, Ritter Pasman, had not pleased the public. In fact, the next big Strauss success would be the pasticcio Wiener Blut, created after he died.

Viennese operetta generally was in decline in the 1890s. Although many works were produced, few have endured—among them Zeller’s Vogelhaendler and Heuberger’s Opernball, at either end of the decade. It would take Lehar to revitalize the genre with The Merry Widow in 1905.

Princess Ninetta was originally played by Ilka von Palmay, a Hungarian operetta soprano faintly remembered in Budapest, but well known to ardent Savoyards as the singer who created the only “English” part in the otherwise “German” final operetta of Gilbert & Sullivan, The Grand Duke (1894). She must have had a thick Hungarian accent—it would have been amusing to hear her play either Yum-Yum or Nanki-Poo in earlier productions of The Mikado (she played both).

The other star was the legendary Viennese singer-comedian Alexander Girardi, around whom entire operettas were built, testifying to his stature in the Austrian theatre. Here he was a mysterious Russian-Turkish diplomat called Kassim Pascha who had started his career as a circus hypnotist.

Ninetta spends a lot of time disguised as a male tour guide, making her soprano flights all the more piquant; perhaps Victor Herbert was acquainted with this work, but then, transvestism of this type was typical in Viennese operetta. Once again, we have a couple about to be married, this time in a Sorrento beach resort hotel, but complications of course delay the proceedings, as they inevitably do in operetta-land. I cannot vouch for the dialog, begun by a forgotten provincial intendant and polished up by the reputable Richard Genee (who had his hand in several lasting Strauss operettas), but the lyrics are often quite amusing, and the work begins with a through-composed section with Italian words that recalls Sullivan’s long, memorable opening for The Gondoliers (1889, seen in Vienna).

Strauss was always enchanted with Italy, and there are a number of Italian-style solos, choruses, and dances in Ninetta, some quite attractive, if not about to displace the music from the far more effective Night in Venice in your head. Amidst all the tarantellas, marches, galops, and other pattery, fast-tempo songs are Strauss’s waltzes. There is also a direct reference to Auber’s opera-comique Fra Diavolo, about the feared bandit who may have been lurking around the Amalfi coast some 63 years after his first red-blooded appearance in Paris.

Other treats include a Swiss yodelling song, a number where Kassim Pascha teaches Ninetta how to hypnotize, and a merry quintet in Act II with a memorable waltz mid-section. It all bounces by agreeably, even zippily in this rendition from Sweden, with an excellent cast handling its German well. Valeria Csanyi conducts the Stockholm Strauss Orchestra with aplomb. The Pizzicato Polka, composed at this time by Strauss, in given as a ballet interpolation.



Andrew Lamb
Gramophone, May 2009

Following Jabuka of 1894, the label now offers Strauss’s immediately preceding operetta. Fürstin Ninetta (“Princess Ninetta”) is set in a Sorrento hotel and concerns a young couple whose wedding is threatened by—but ultimately overcomes—events that, as set out in the booklet-note, seem bizarre even by operetta standards. The title-role of a Russian Princess was first played by the Hungarian actress Ilka Pálmay, who in a diverse career also created the roles of Christel in Zeller’s Der Vogelhändler and Julia Jellicoe in Sullivan’s The Grand Duke. She must have had good legs, because for reasons unexplained in the synopsis she swaps between male and female dress throughout the operetta.

An unusually brief orchestral introduction leads into an attractive scene-setting number in tarantella rhythm. Noteworthy in Act 2 is a fascinating Quintet and a “Hypnotic Duet”, while Act 3 produces the only two numbers that will be at all familiar complete—the waltz-song “Einst träumte mir”, recorded by Hermann Prey, and the Neue-Pizzicato Polka, which Strauss interpolated into the operetta as an intermezzo. If other numbers too often sound like dances with words attached, rather than a lyrical treatment of the plot, those dance melodies are attractive enough—many of them recognisable from orchestral dance arrangements from the operetta.

The live recording is of a performance with Swedish personnel in Stockholm in October 2007. It has no dialogue and some applause. It’s altogether professionally done, with orchestra and chorus that are especially good. The best voices are perhaps those of the baritones Samuel Jarrick and Jesper Taube; but the two leading sopranos are apt to approach their notes from below. Such general tentativeness and some lack of zip may owe something to conductor Valéria Csányi, who certainly contrives an ending that is thoroughly anti-climactic. If there were rival versions of Fürstin Ninetta, this would probably not be the preferred choice. As it is, it makes a welcome change from yet another Fledermaus—and it comes at give-away price too.



Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, April 2009

The music is in the main out of Strauss’s top drawer. There is a short march-like overture that at once evokes that special Straussian tingle factor. The introduction scene, with splendid choral writing further enhances the feel-fine factor. There are solos for the main characters: Ferdinand, Ninetta and Cassim. There are some duets and several ensembles, notably the two extended finales to act I and II. The latter is one of Strauss’s finest creations, not only for the marvellous melodies but even more for the dramatic tension and some contrapuntal writing for the chorus. In addition we are treated to illustrative orchestral effects and a dark operatic doomsday atmosphere before the murders are sorted out one by one. Ninetta’s long solo, with its melismatic opening, should be a fine showpiece at any solo recital.

The separate solos and duets are also memorable, perhaps finest of all Cassim’s waltz Einst träumte mir (CD 2 tr. 6). This is followed by a children’s ballet, accompanied by Neue Pizzicato Polka, Op. 449, which was composed by Strauss in the spring of 1892, long before he finished the operetta. It is exquisitely played here, as is the rest of the music. The Stockholm Strauss Orchestra was founded in 1992 and its fifty players are drawn from all the major orchestras in Stockholm. It has the original Wiener Johann Strauss-Capelle as its model. They play all kinds of music and have a repertoire of more than 1200 works. Judging by this recording they are devoted to the music of Strauss. The members of the Ninetta Chorus were handpicked for this production by the chorus-master Bo Wannefors from the Swedish Radio Choir and the Choir of the People’s Opera (Folkoperan). Rarely if ever do we encounter such ravishing choral singing in operetta.

Among the soloists Jesper Taube’s Cassim stands out as a superb operetta charmer: manly, warm of voice, with the right operetta lilt and expressive with words. I have seen and heard him a number of times, most recently his excellent Dandini in Stockholm’s La Cenerentola less than a year ago. His singing here surpasses everything I have heard. Almost on a par with him is Tua Åberg as Ninetta. She has been a leading coloratura for quite some time now—I first heard her while she was still a student at the University College of Opera in Stockholm and thought then that she had something of Toti Dal Monte about her. The agility and the pinpoint accuracy at the top are still there as is the beauty of tone, even though it has hardened slightly. She is however superb in her chanson in act II (CD 2 tr. 2)—a lovely song!—as she is in the preceding long hypnotising duet with Cassim (CD 2 tr. 1).

Fredrik Strid and Henriikka Gröndahl as the young couple, Ferdinand and Adelheid, have agreeable voices, though they take some time to warm up. Ferdinand’s mother and Adelheid’s father Elin Rombo and Göran Eliasson are excellent. I had reason to praise Ms Rombo quite recently when reviewing the world premiere of Sven-David Sandström’s opera Batseba. Ola Eliasson and Samuel Jarrick also make good impressions.

The recording engineer is Gert Palmcrantz, which for many years has been a guarantee of excellent sound. Distant applause is heard at end of acts and after some numbers…I think every lover of Strauss II or operetta in general should hear this. It is hardly likely that there will be an opportunity to catch any other performance of this work nor another recording of it. This one gives a worthy representation of this delectable score.






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8:17:27 PM, 10 July 2014
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