About this Recording
8.110292 - VIENNESE OPERETTA GEMS (1927-1949)


Original Recordings 1927-1949

Mythical Vienna and operetta have long been synonyms and our brief survey of the Viennese Operette therefore appropriately begins with well-known samples from the landmarks of the Viennese ‘Waltz King’ Johann Strauss II (1825-1899). Strauss was already a fêted exponent of Viennese dance music before he turned to operetta, with Indigo, in 1871. He was born, spent most of his days and died in Vienna where, with the exception of Eine Nacht in Venedig (Berlin, 1883), the premières of his operettas all took place. His masterpieces and the quintessence of the Viennese genre, Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron date from 1874 and 1885 respectively.  From the former comes Rosalinde and Alfred’s Act 1 ‘Drinking Duet’ (featuring Frankfurt-born tenor Franz Völker (1899-1965), an intermittent star of the Vienna State from 1931 to 1950) and the maid Adele’s coquettish Act 2 Mein Herr Marquis (sung here in the true soubrette style by Merseburg-born soprano Elisabeth Schumann, 1888-1952); from the latter, Barinkay’s swaying opening waltz, crowned with a telling top C from the still underestimated American tenor Charles Kullman (1903-1983), an erstwhile star of the Berlin State, is followed by the Act 2 duet with Saffi and some caressing mezza-voce for which the Swedish Jussi Björling (1911-1960) won world renown.

            In parallel with, and often rivalling, the younger Strauss, a constellation of other composers active in Austria and Germany continued the trends originally set by Offenbach, introducing ad hoc in response to popular demand more of the traditional ‘Viennese’ elements of comedy and Singspiel. Among the most prolific of these was Franz von Suppé (really Francesco Ezecchiele Ermenegildo, Cavaliere Suppé-Demelli, 1819-1895). An aristocrat-turned-conductor of Dalmatian origin, Suppé penned more than 200 works for the stage, including thirty-odd light operas and operettas of which several enjoyed high popularity in Vienna. His 1860 work Das Pensionat has, rightly or wrongly, been pinpointed as ‘the first Viennese operetta’, but his most enduring success was Boccaccio (1879), from which comes the superbly lyrical Hab’ ich nur deine Liebe, seamlessly delivered by Vienna-born star tenor Julius Patzak (1898-1974).

            Prominent in the next generation, and all Austrians, were Karl Zeller (1842-1898; born at St. Peter-in-der-Au), Richard Franz Joseph Heuberger (1850-1914), Karl Millöcker (1842-1899) and Karl Michael Ziehrer (1843-1922), the last two both natives of Vienna. An official in the Austrian Ministry of Education, music for Zeller was only a hobby until his greatest success, Der Vogelhändler, was given in Vienna in 1891. Initially a civil engineer, Heuberger turned to music in 1876 following his appointment as chorus-master of the Vienna Gesangverein. A noted music critic, editor and sometime professor of music at the Vienna Conservatoire, his sole operetta success, Der Opernball, was first heard at the Theater an der Wien, in 1898. The son of a Viennese jeweller, Millöcker was variously a flautist and conductor before being appointed, at Suppé’s recommendation, musical director of the Theater an der Wien, a post he held from 1869 to 1883. In its superbly integrated blend of burlesque and romance, his greatest success Der Bettelstudent (1882) has been rated the Viennese counterpart to Lecocq’s French opérette masterpiece La fille de Madame Angot. Self-taught, from 1863 Ziehrer toured Austria and Germany with his own dance orchestra before promoting popular concerts in Vienna. The composer of about 600 marches and waltzes he also wrote operettas, his most celebrated Die Landstreicher (1899).

            By the second decade of the last century Viennese operetta was dominated by two figures, both Hungarians by birth and ancestry: Franz (originally Ferencz) Lehár (1870-1948) and Emmerich (originally Imre) Kálmán (1882-1953). A native of Siófok, Kálmán studied with organist-composer Hans Koessler in Budapest and settled in Vienna where he wrote a succession of tuneful Viennese-style operettas, beginning with Ein Herbstmanöver, first given in Budapest in 1908. While his subsequent Vienna successes include Die Csardasfürstin (1915), Die Bajadere (1921 – in the Act 1 finale Hungarian soprano Gitta Alpár (1903-1991) is joined by Swiss tenor star of German radio Herbert Ernst Groh, 1905-1982) and Die Zircusprinzessin (1926), his finest and most often performed work, Gräfin Mariza (Vienna, 1924) contains several rousing tunes, not least Komm’, Zígan’ (a fine vehicle for Belgian-born star of the Berlin State Opera, Marcel Wittrisch, 1903-1955).

            Born in Komórom, like his father before him Lehár served for a time as a military band-master. Earlier, he had studied violin, piano and composition at the Prague Conservatory and harmony and counterpoint, privately, under Zdenko Fibich and Antonin Dvorˇák. His first opera, a flop, was produced at Leipzig in 1896 but by 1903, when he took up the musical directorship of the Theater an der Wien, he was already famed for his popular waltz ‘Gold und Silber’ Op.75. In 1905, after five moderate operetta successes, his fortuitous assumption of a libretto rejected by Heuberger altered the dir-ection of Viennese operetta. Die lustige Witwe first ran at the Theater an der Wien in 1905 for a record-breaking 483 performances. From 1907 it ran in London for 778 and on Broadway for 416 and by 1909, when it hit Paris, it had sparked new crazes in women’s fashion and altered global trends in operetta writing.

            Lehár’s subsequent hits included Der Graf von Luxemburg (1909) and Ziguenerliebe (1910 – its tenor solo is sung here with panache by the Romanian Joseph Schmidt, 1904-1942), in addition to several vehicles for Linz-born tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948), including Paganini (1924 – from this the solo Liebe, du Himmel, is sung by the Viennese star of more recent revivals, Hilde Gueden, 1917-1988), Friederike (1928), Schön ist die Welt (1930 – in this Tauber’s partner was Gitta Alpár and Giuditta (in this, Lehár’s swansong attempt at opera-writing staged at the Vienna State Opera in 1934, Tauber shared the honours with Czechoslovakian opera soprano, and subse-quent singing film-actress Jarmila Novotná (1907-1994).   

            During the 1930s, with works by Robert Stolz (1880-1975), Nico Dostal (1895-1981) and others, Viennese operetta made its first entrées into the new medium of the film musical. Scion of a musical family, Dostal first worked in Berlin as a conductor and arranger. He also wrote for stage and film before his first operetta success, Clivia, was premièred in Berlin, in 1933, starring his wife-to-be, the Viennese coloratura Lillie Claus. Among his subsequent successes were Die Vielgeliebte (1935) and Monika (1937 – filmed in 1942 as Heimatland, its hit-song is sung here by the Bohemia-born star of the Berlin operetta stage Anni Frind, 1900-1987). Although only one of his stage works (Liebesbriefe, 1955) was premièred in Vienna, all are moulded in the Viennese tradition. His last operetta, Rhapsodie der Liebe, was first heard in Nuremberg in 1963.

            A pupil of Robert Fuchs in Vienna and Humperdinck in Berlin, Graz-born Robert Stolz started his musical career as a répétiteur. A fine pianist, he won early note as a conductor (including the première of Lehár’s Die lustige Witwe). For twelve years musical director at the Theater an der Wien, by 1940 he had emigrated to the USA, returning to Vienna only in 1946. His work in the genre, however, endured until 1969, long after the heyday of the Operette was past. Marked by a characteristic penchant for the nostalgic and languid, Stolz’s anachronistic but highly popular works in the Viennese idiom, which were variously mounted in Budapest, Berlin, Vienna, London and Zurich, include Der Tanz ins Glück (1920), Venus in Seide (1932) and Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt (1933). Outstanding among his many film-musical successes were Das Lied ist aus (1930), Liebeskommando (1931) – both featuring Wittrisch – and Zauber der Bohème, a 1937 re-vamp of Puccini’s opera with extra material by Stolz (including Ich liebe dich) originally conceived for Polish opera and film tenor Jan Kiepura (1902-1966) and his Hungarian soprano spouse, Marta Eggerth (born 1912).

Peter Dempsey, 2003

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