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Johann Strauss: Prinz Methusalem

Strauss / Theis / Frey / Glatte / Ernst
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777747   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Strauss Jr.
Performer:  Elmar AndreeFrank ErnstJana FreyGerd Wiemar,   ... 
Conductor:  Ernst Theis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden State Opera ChorusDresden State Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

J. STRAUSS II Prinz Methusalem Ernst Theis, cond; Jana Prey ( Prinz Methusalem ); Jessica Glatte ( Pulcinella ); Frank Ernst ( Sigismund ); Gerd Wiemer ( Cyprian ); Andreas Sauerzapf ( Trombonius ); Elmor Andree ( Count Vulcanio ); Frank Oberüber Read more ( Dirigatius ); Isabell Schmitt ( Pulcinella ); 1 Christian Grygas ( Prinz Methusalem ); 1 Dresden State Operetta O & Ch CPO 777 747-2 (2 CDs: 103:06)

& 1 2 duets

It may be a matter of contention just how successful Prinz Methusalem proved to be back in its day. The Johann Strauss Jr. work, his fifth operetta, was originally targeted for presentation in Paris. To this end Strauss chose a work of political satire by two French writers, similar to those proving so successful at the time for French composer Jacques Offenbach. In the end, the Parisian deal could not be closed and the work needed to be translated into German for performance in Vienna. Political satire was certainly not something to which the Viennese public was accustomed, nor its rather stiff-backed rulers. In any case, the operetta premiered there at the Carltheater in January 1877 and by some reports received a rousing reception. The work had a modestly successful run in Vienna of some 90 performances, and also a respectable run in New York City in 1883 with 102 performances at the Casino Theater. Methusalem was panned by London critics in a rather brief run of performances also in 1883. The booklet notes claim critics were unanimously negative to the story and the operetta limped by primarily on its Strauss score. The story was accused of being too complicated, unfocused, and distinctly not funny. According to this account there were some 35 character roles listed on the playbill!

This, then, is put forth as the justification for the Dresden State Operetta Company to proceed with a rewrite, or in the words of the booklet notes, to provide a “judiciously reworked and updated [book] by the Berlin cabaret artist and writer Peter Ensikat.” (Who?) This, of course, would be anathema for a stage work or opera, but is a common-enough practice in the realm of the often little-valued operetta. Song lyrics have apparently also undergone some revision, but it seems the Strauss score has fortunately avoided judicious improvement and remains intact; at least all of the original musical numbers seem to be in place. And the Strauss music is still the reason to savor the operetta and this CPO production of it.

The story, even judiciously reworked and updated, is quite a confusing jumble. It involves two adjacent kingdoms, Trocadero and Rikarak, and their respective kings, who dislike and distrust each other but are both facing financial woes and domestic unrest. One state has too many unpaid artists and the other too many unpaid soldiers. The rulers mutually decide that a match between their offspring, Prinz Methusalem of Rikarak and Pulcinella of Trocadero, would help settle the unrest and go a long way to providing a more stable future. When the two young royals meet they fall instantly in love (is there any other way?) and agree wholeheartedly with the plan. But by then both kings are having second thoughts and begin to hatch plans to foment uprisings in the rival kingdoms. King Sigismund of Trocadaro does not want his virgin daughter diminished in value by the consummation of her marriage, so he locks her away in the castle prior to her wedding night. But the wily young bridegroom, Methusalem, finds a way in and the two are able to spend a blissful night together (to which we thankfully are not invited). The unpaid artists are unhappy, the unpaid soldiers are restive, uprisings are fomented, and both kings are deposed before finally ending up sovereigns of the opposite realms! The Prince briefly considers being appointed field marshal but opts for a quiet life with his new wife instead. I have given you here just the Cliffs Notes version; believe me, if this is the simplified story, perhaps Dresden Operetta’s revisions were completely justified.

The performance is quite good. The romantic couple, soprano Jessica Glatte and mezzo Jana Prey, are the best singers, Glatte a light soprano ideal for this type of music and absolutely spot-on in everything she sings. Prey is also very good in the pants role of the prince, and both women blend their voices divinely in Strauss’s duets, especially the lovely “Holde Nacht verweile” in act II. The men need not be great singers, and aren’t; they are called upon mostly as comedic foils, so presentation and delivery are more important than vocal quality. All of our gentlemen, kings, artists, soldiers, and agents of insurrection do provide top-quality comedic talent. As an interesting bonus we are given two duets by the alternate-cast Methusalem and Pulcinella, in this case a soprano and baritone, providing a completely different intermingling of voices. Both of these singers are very good as well, but I think I prefer the two females singing together as Strauss originally intended. The Dresden orchestra seems to have the Viennese style in its blood and is especially enjoyable in Strauss’s lively overture. The chorus starts out sounding a bit ugly, but improves considerably as the work progresses.

So, Prinz Methusalem may be obscure and forgotten, perhaps with some reason, given the ticky-tacky story, but Strauss’s music shouldn’t be. While maybe not as strong as Die Fledermaus , this score is top-notch Strauss in his prime. For a foretaste go to YouTube and dial up the Bandits Galop, op. 378, which is taken from some of this music. The CPO booklet has four very informative essays in German and English, a synopsis and brief bios, but no libretto or translation. That is almost unforgiveable when they have changed the story! But forget all that and buy this for the Waltz King’s charming music, played and sung well. You will hear it no place else.

FANFARE: Bill White
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Works on This Recording

Prinz Methusalem by Johann Strauss Jr.
Performer:  Elmar Andree (Bass Baritone), Frank Ernst (Tenor), Jana Frey (Mezzo Soprano),
Gerd Wiemar (Baritone), Jessica Glatte (Soprano), Andreas Sauerzapf (Tenor),
Frank Oberuber (Tenor)
Conductor:  Ernst Theis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden State Opera Chorus,  Dresden State Opera Orchestra

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