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8.111010 - LEHAR: Le comte de Luxembourg / Frederique / Giuditta (excerpts) (ORTF, Sibert) (1966-1980)
English  French 

Franz Lehár (1870-1948)
Operetta Excerpts Sung in French

The most celebrated of twentieth-century Viennese operetta composers, Franz (or Ferencz) Lehár was born in Komoróm, Hungary, on 30th April 1870. From early childhood he showed an exceptional musical talent, improvising tunes on the piano by the age of six. His father, Franz Lehár (1838-1898), a composer-military band sergeant-major in the 5th Austrian Infantry Regiment, gave him his first instruction and in 1882 Franz entered the Prague Conservatory to study violin, piano and composition. He also received private tuition in harmony and counterpoint from Fibich and Dvofiák. At eighteen, his studies completed, Lehár played the violin in provincial German theatre orchestras and first violin in his father’s band in Vienna. Other military appointments followed in Pola, Vienna and Trieste, but the theatre already held greater attractions for one who had already for years been composing orchestral and vocal works in various genres.

After conducting his first opera, Kukuska, a flop produced at Leipzig in 1896, Lehár temporarily resumed military service in Trieste before taking over his father’s band in Trieste, and in 1899 he was appointed bandmaster of the 26th Austrian Infantry in Vienna, the scene of his future triumphs. Three of his 1901 operettas came to nothing but spurred by sales of some popular marches and waltzes, especially Gold und Silber, Op. 75, during the following year he finally relinquished military service for musical directorship of the Theater an der Wien, where his Wiener Frauen, a moderate success, was first given in November. By 1904 Vienna had seen four more of his operettas but his chance setting in 1905 of a libretto originally intended for Richard Heuberger changed the fortunes and direction of Viennese operetta and won Lehár international renown.

One of the world’s all-time greatest stage successes, Lehár’s early three-act masterpiece Die lustige Witwe was first staged in a low-budget production at the Theater and der Wien in December 1905. Its initial production ran for a record-breaking 483 performances, despite having been earlier dismissed by the theatre’s directors as “unmusical and tuneless”. From 1907 (as The Merry Widow) in London it ran a further 778 performances and on Broadway for 416 and by 1909, when it reached Paris (as La veuve joyeuse), the work had sparked new crazes in women’s fashion and altered global trends in operetta-writing, which found their reflection in successive works by Fall, Kálmán, Stolz and others. Subsequently, in Hollywood, it inspired three MGM film-versions, in 1925 (silent), 1934 and 1952.

Four more minor essays in the Viennese genre followed, all comparative failures, before Lehár scored his next resounding hits. Brimming with enticing melodies, with a fine libretto by A.M. Willner (1858- 1929) and Robert Bodanzky, the three-act musical comedy Der Graf von Luxemburg (1909) proved a healthy money-spinner with 299 performances at the Theater an der Wien prior to entering the international repertoire (in London, in 1911, it ran for a further 340, while its 1912 Broadway production lasted for 120). It was first heard in Paris, in its German original, in a 1911 touring company production. The French version, Le Comte de Luxembourg, adapted by Robert de Flers and G.A. de Caillavet, was staged in 1912 by Alphonse Frank, at the Paris Apollo, with 149 performances.

Lehár’s next success Zigeunerliebe (1910) was first performed in Vienna, at the Carltheater, but achieved its greatest run in London at Daly’s in 1912 as Gypsy Love, with 299 performances. Despite only 31 showings on Broadway its later transatlantic fortunes were boosted when, in 1930, its story-line provided the basis for The Rogue Song, an early film-musical starring the opera baritone Lawrence Tibbett.

Before the First World War Lehár’s only operetta of real substance, Eva, subtitled Das Fabriksmädel (The Factory Girl) was first heard in Vienna in 1911 and this was followed by four more works in the standard mode prior to Der Sterngucker (The Stargazer) in Vienna in 1916. After the armistice, moreover, the importation into Europe of jazz and other new musical styles from the United States looked set to eclipse his rather traditional brand of Viennese operetta, and his post-war creations, most notably Die blaue Mazur, which played for eleven months at the Theater an der Wien in 1920, despite occasional recourse to the latest dance-rhythms, aroused only moderate interest. During 1922 Libellentanz (Dance of the Dragonflies) and Frasquita both saw the light. A three-act ‘revueoperette’ with libretto by Willner and Carlo Lombardo, Libellentanz, a re-working by Lehár of Sterngucker, was first given as La danza delle libellule at the Lirico in Milan in September and imported to Vienna to the Neues Wiener Stadttheater in April 1923. It was first heard in France, adapted by Roger Ferréol and Max Eddy, as La danse des libellules, at the Ba-Ta-Clan, Paris, in March 1924.

Lehár’s popularity, however, was soon reasserted after his works, championed by the tenor Richard Tauber (1891-1948), began to capture the public’s imagination. Beginning in 1925 with Paganini, the series of Lehár-Tauber Berlin collaborations included Der Zarewitsch (1927, Kunsttheater; operetta in three acts with libretto by Béla Jenbach and H. Reichert; first French production in 1929 as Le Tsarévitch, in a translation by R. de Mackiels, at the Théâtre des Célestins (Lyons) and subsequently, as Rêve d’un soir, in Paris, at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin, in 1935), Friederike (1928, Metropole; libretto by L. Herzer and F. Löhner; first French production, as Frédérique, in an adaptation by A. Rivoire, in Paris, in 1930) and Das Land des Lächelns (a 1929 ‘Tauberisation’ of the unsuccessful 1923 Die gelbe Jacke). Its success was followed in 1930 by Das Frühlingsmädel and Schön ist die Welt and Der Fürst der Berge (a revision of his 1909 operetta Das Fürstenkind) in 1932.

Despite the work’s comparative early failure many critics have continued to regard Lehár’s last original stage work Giuditta as a masterpiece, however flawed. The substantial score of this musical play in five scenes by Paul Knepler and Fritz Löhner was begun in the late 1920s. More opera than operetta, its appearance prompted favourable comparisons with Puccini, although some, perhaps not without justification, regarded its heavy scoring as unwieldy and pretentious. It had its première at the (for an operetta) unusual venue of the Vienna Staatsoper in January, 1934, with Tauber and the Czech operatic soprano Jarmila Novotná (1907- 1994) taking the leads. Effectively also the swansong of the Lehár-Tauber axis, the work was the composer’s own favourite, or at least he considered it his best writing. It was first produced in France, at Toulouse, in 1936.

Austro-Hungarian by birth, Parisian by adoption, the first love of the conductor Adolphe Sibert (1899- 1991) was the violin, which he played from the age of six. After private tuition, he trained at the National Academy of Music and Art where, during his final year, his violin tutor was Bronislav Huberman. Winning first prize for violin, he was also awarded a state diploma and afterwards underwent further study in piano, counterpoint, composition and conducting under Wilhelm Furtwängler and Clemens Krauss. At the age of 24, he was engaged as conductor by Viennese Radio, remaining there until the German occupation in 1938, having had the opportunity to work closely with some of the finest composers of the period, including Franz Lehár, Emmerich Kálmán, Robert Stolz and Richard Strauss and also with such celebrated writers as Thomas Mann and Arthur Schnitzler. In 1945 he was engaged by Radio Nice as Director of Viennese Music and in 1952 he was appointed conductor of the Orchestre Lyrique de la RTF et ORTF. From 1965 he was producer for broadcasts of Viennese and light orchestral music for France Musique. A recipient in 1971 of the Grand Prix du Disque of the Académie Charles Cros, in 2003 the Académie du Disque Lyrique posthumously awarded him a ‘Special Distinction’ for his recordings of Viennese Operetta.

Of Basque origin, the soprano Lina Dachary was destined to become a star of French operetta. In 1945 she joined the Paris Opéra-Comique, adding Reynaldo Hahn’s Malvina to that company’s repertoire and thereafter her career was heavily orientated towards operetta. In 1947, at the Empire, she appeared in La belle de Cadix (with Luis Mariano) and in 1953, at the Châtelet, in L’auberge du cheval blanc. For French radio (RTF, then ORTF), which at that time offered a specialised ‘Musique légère’ programme, she participated in several studio opérette recordings.

Born in Paris, the tenor Henri Legay (1920-1992) began his musical training as an orchestral player before embarking on a career in intimate theatre and cabaret, frequently singing to his own guitar accompaniment and writing much of his own material. Desiring greater things from his voice, from 1947 he studied at the Paris Conservatoire before making his début in operetta at the Alhambra. By 1950 he had turned to opera, making his début as Gounod’s Faust at Lausanne. Subsequently he made appearances at both the Opéra-Comique and the Opéra, in a variety of rôles including Wilhelm Meister (Mignon), Des Grieux (Manon), Alfredo (Traviata), Belmonte (Seraglio) and Rodolfo (La Bohème). He was also heard in provincial theatres throughout France, and in Belgium, Switzerland, Holland, and North Africa, as well as in BBC transmissions. In 1979 he made successful guest appearances in leading rôles at Ghent in, among other works, Les pêcheurs de perles, Le barbier de Séville, Les deux journées (Cherubini), La jolie fille de Perth (Bizet), La dame blanche (Boïeldieu) and Sigurd (Réyer). His final years were spent as an opera producer.

Born in Guelma, Algeria, and a graduate of the Montpellier Conservatoire, the baryton-martin Aimé Doniat (1918-1973) was a highly-rated bassoonist prior to embarking on a singing career. In 1941 he was a member of the Radio Marseilles Chorus and from 1945 onwards he successfully undertook rôles in a variety of operettas; a noted Florestant in Messager’s Véronique, he also made memorable appearances in Valse de Vienne and Rêve de valse by Oscar Straus. In Paris he was also for many years a noted singer in recital and on radio. His final years were spent as a voice teacher, privately and at the Versailles Conservatoire.

Born in Monaco, of Italian ancestry, Alain Vanzo (b.1928) studied in Paris with Rolande Dracoeur. In 1954 he won a singing competition in Cannes and was engaged by the Paris Opéra where from 1957 onwards he sang all the tenor leads. An international career took him variously to Great Britain, Bulgaria, Ireland, Portugal, Italy and the New York Metropolitan, and he was heard in all the classic tenor rôles, Ottavio, Alfredo, Pinkerton, Nadir (Les pêcheurs de perles), Rodolfo, Mylio (Le roi d’Ys), Werther, the Duke (Rigoletto), Gérald (Lakmé), Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor, opposite Joan Sutherland), Des Grieux (Manon), among others. In 1982 he won global recognition both as a composer, with the world première of his opera Les Chouans and for his recording of Pénélope, the rarely performed opera by Gabriel Fauré.

Peter Dempsey

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