Notes and Editorial Reviews
Pure delight from beginning to end.
Die Lustigen Nibelungen
Martin Gantner (
); Daphne Evangelatos (
); Gerd Grochowski (
); Hein Heidbüchel (
); Gabriele Henkel (
); Lisa Griffith (
); Josef Otten (
); Michael Nowak (
); Gudrun Volkert (
); Christine Mann (
); Siegfried Köhler, cond; WDR RO & Ch
CAPRICCIO 5088 (65: 50)
This is a reissue, sans libretto, of a disc recorded back in 1995. I know the CD labels are scrambling for sales to compete with downloads, but really, putting out a disc like this without a libretto doesn’t help their case, and neither the CD back nor the booklet indicates that there is a version available online.
For those unfamiliar with this work (I sure was), it was Oscar Straus’s very first operetta, preceding the more famous
Based on a libretto by the celebrated, and caustic, German wit Fritz Olivén, a Berlin lawyer who wrote satire under the pen name Rideamus, it “updates”
in that Siegfried, the invulnerable hero, has deposited the Nibelung treasure into the Rhenish Bank so that it earns six-percent interest per annum, and whose motto is “Squander money, go broke, and make a rich marriage!” Still, the Gibich family realizes that Nibelungen gold earning six-percent interest is nothing to sneeze at, so they give him permission to marry their daughter Kriemhild (whom Wagner renamed Gutrune in his opera), while the lovesick Gunther is able to pursue the feisty Queen of Isenland, Brunhilde, whose modus operandi toward all suitors is to wrestle them to a tentacle hold. As in the opera, Gunther calls on his new best buddy Siegfried to put on the Tarnhelm and wrestle Brunhilde for him, which he does, but on their wedding eve Brunhilde gets a bee in her bonnet, wrestles Gunther anyway, and ends up hanging his sorry carcass on a coat-hook for the night.
By the third act of this jolly lovefest, a little bird—not in a forest, but a cage in the Gibich’s living room—forewarns Siegfried not of his downfall at the hands of Hagen but of the impending crash of the Rhenish Bank and the liquidation of his Nibelung shares. Also with the bird’s help, Siegfried exposes Hagen, who was stealing toward him to stick a spear in his back (wanting to get rid of him but keep the Nibelung millions in the family), and wrestles the spear from him. Fortunately, when Hagen learns of the crash of the Rhenish Bank and the devaluation of Nibelung shares, his motive for murder disappears. Siegfried forgives him because, after all, his only motive was greed, not personal hatred, which Siegfried can completely understand. In an ending too silly and complicated to explain, Brunhilde feels insulted by the fact that it was Siegfried and not Gunther who wrestled her to the consummation of her marriage, so Siegfried offers to marry her, which pleases her much and gives 50 percent of the now-worthless Nibelung shares to the Gibich family.
The Merry Nibelungs
premiered in Berlin in 1905, the audience got every joke, as the libretto by Rideamus went straight to the heart of German pretentiousness and power. Wilhelm II had recently sent German recruits to China with the demand to “rage like the Huns” against all enemies, so there were several references to German arrogance and power hunger in the operetta. The audience laughed at a presentation ritual in the style of the best Prussian officers’ mess, their eating of dragon’s-blood sausage, and a dachshund dressed as a dragon. All of this is lost on modern non-Teutonic audiences, of course, but the music is still delightful and the references to bank crashes and ruined market shares ring only too true in today’s economy.
Of the two famous operetta composers of this era, Franz Lehár was the more romantic, Straus the more witty and bouncy. His music is more similar to the operettas of Carl Millöcker, such as
The present cast is a good one, if not on the exalted level of recordings from the past. Baritone Martin Gantner, as Gunther, has a nice timbre but a slightly unsteady vibrato; contralto Daphne Evangelatos (Ute) is also a tad unsteady, but she’s singing the matron of the family. Everyone else sings very well, particularly soprano Lisa Griffith as Kriemhild and tenor Michael Nowak as Siegfried. I should warn you, however, that in
work, Siegfried’s voice is a light tenor, much closer in weight and timbre to Gerhard Unger than to Wolfgang Windgassen or Jon Vickers. Similarly, Brunhilde is a comic mezzo, her role written very similarly to that of Ruth in
The Pirates of Penzance
, and Gudrun Volkert has one of those oddball mezzo voices that sounds, curiously, like a cross between a countertenor and a lightweight Birgit Nilsson. By and large, the cast does have fun with the music, and Köhler’s conducting is bright and energetic.
If you are a fan of German operetta, or just want something humorous to offset all of those
cycles, this is certainly a good choice. I loved it!
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
The title alone will intrigue; the names of the characters will then confirm that this is indeed an operetta based partly on Wagner’s mighty work and even more on one of his main sources – The Nibelungenlied. It was first performed in Vienna in 1904 with great success which was repeated when it was performed in Berlin. Similar success elsewhere in Germany was however soon halted with the rise of that very militarism which the libretto satirises. Straus moved first to Austria and then to France and the USA.
Nowadays, insofar as he is known at all, Straus is known for his later, more sentimental albeit still delightful, works such as A Waltz Dream and The Chocolate Soldier. That said, the present work is to my mind by some way his most enjoyable piece. Unlike those other works this is essentially a continuation of the satiric style of Offenbach.with the addition of a few more typically Viennese elements and a few (surprisingly few) references to Wagner. As a whole this works superbly, with terrific spirit and energy of a kind equalled only by Offenbach himself.
None of the performers can be said to be household names and none have voices of obvious inherent greatness. More important, however, all have the necessary ability to present the work at its best. Diction is excellent, as it needs to be in the absence of a text or translation and with a good booklet synopsis rendered less helpful by omitting track numbers. The absence of dialogue on the other hand is entirely an advantage in the absence of the text.
Operetta on disc can fall very flat, but on this disc there is nothing but pure delight from beginning to end. This is a reissue but none the less welcome for that.
-- John Sheppard, MusicWeb Internatonal
Works on This Recording
Die lustigen Nibelungen by Oscar Straus
Gudrun Volkert (Soprano),
Michael Nowak (Tenor),
Josef Otten (),
Martin Gantner (Tenor),
Gerd Grochowski (),
Daphne Evangelatos (Mezzo Soprano),
Gabriele Henkel (),
Lisa Griffith (Soprano),
Heinz Heidbüchel (Tenor),
Christine Mann ()
Cologne West German Radio Chorus,
Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: by 1904; Vienna, Austria
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