Notes and Editorial Reviews
Der Graf von Luxemburg
Rudolf Bibl, cond; Ruth Ohlmann (
); Michael Suttner (
); Ana-Maria Labin (
); Marko Kathol (
); Alfred Sramek (
); Marika Lichter (
Countess Stasa Kolkozow
class="ARIAL12">); Mörbisch Festival O & Ch
OEHMS 570 (78:58)
Franz Lehár’s 1909 operetta about a penniless, life-loving count deserves to be much better known. With
Die lustige Witwe
(1905), it was one of a trio of smash successes for the young composer in the century’s first decade, but the worldwide phenomenon of
The Merry Widow
has cast it and virtually every other work of the composer’s pre-1920s career far into the shadows, not to be overcome until the composer’s shift toward tragic-comic “heavy” operetta in the 1920s. Perhaps the toll has been greatest on
Der Graf von Luxemburg
, which, of all the composer’s works, seems most closely to resemble
Die lustige Witwe
, and can thus be seen as a failed attempt to duplicate that work’s success. On its own terms, however,
The Count of Luxembourg
abounds in entrancing Viennese waltz tunes and atmospheric, inspired charm. Based on the revues, this Mörbisch production (also available in DVD format from Internet sources) has done much to reawaken interest in one of the composer’s stronger and underrated scores. Another production, currently still running in the repertoire of Vienna’s Volksoper, and also available on DVD, continues to remind live audiences that this work, too, is a vital contribution to the development of modern music theater.
In essence the work is Lehár’s take on the
spirit, or at least the kitsch image of starving artists living in garrets. The story is a simple one, tapping into Lehar’s contradictory embrace of simultaneously aristocratic and earthy sensibilities. The scene opens in Paris, in high Mardi Gras season, where a count from a formerly glorious aristocratic family (René) has squandered what remains of his inheritance. He is sharing a garret with a carefree artist friend (Armand Brissard), who is himself in love with his model, the dancer Juliette, but having difficulty finding sufficient inspiration to complete his portrait of her. Enter an old Russian count with an offer he can’t refuse: in love with a young singer, but unable to marry her because of her low station, the Russian offers René half a million francs if he will marry her himself, then divorce her. As a divorced countess, she will have noble status; everybody’s problems solved. So that this “marriage of convenience” does not introduce any romantic complications (particularly considering that Réne and Angèle are more age-appropriate for each other), the marriage contract is sealed while René stands behind a curtain, able to see and touch only Angèle’s hand.
The second act revolves around the burgeoning romance between René and Angèle, neither of whom recognizes the other. Entranced after seeing one of Angèle’s stage performances, Rene seeks her out, and they find their attraction is mutual. But, they must suppress it because each is married, they think, to another person. Indeed, at the climax of one of their many waltz duets, they congratulate each other on their upcoming divorces, in the hopes that they can get together. Eventually, Basil Basilowitsch’s impatience to announce his engagement to the soon-to-be-divorced Angèle precipitates a confrontation, where the two young people discover that they have been married to each other all along. The jealousy of old Basil Basilowitsch is averted by the sudden appearance of his comically aggressive and possessive old fiancée from the old country.
Flimsily contrived on the outside, the plot allowed Lehár to do what he does best: build erotic tension from the attraction of characters that feel they must resist, and sustaining that tension until dramatic circumstances allow it to break into ecstatic musical resolution. Act I shows this most vividly, as Lehár strings these improbable events together with an entrancing chain of lilting waltz tunes. Although nowhere nearly as well known as virtually any numbers from
Die lustige Witwe
, the score abounds in waltz tunes, elegantly phrased and unfolded, and is ultimately as fecund and delicate as its more famous predecessor. A case in point, “Sie geht links, er geht rechts,” from act I, aptly captures the awkwardness of the two (eventual) lovers as they discover each other by touch and not by sight. The carnival music, which frames act I and the whole opera, as well as echoing the “masked” nature of the central romantic relationship, is also full of vital atmosphere and energy.
Like many Oehms recordings in general and the most recent Mörbisch recordings in particular (reviewed in 29:4), this disc embodies high production values. Sound is spacious and natural. There is strong choral work throughout, with exemplary diction. From the wispy, ambiguous textures of the opening prelude and march, and the sprightly Mardi Gras chorus that follows, veteran operetta conductor Rudolf Bibl teases keenly judged, pointedly detailed and idiomatic playing from an orchestra steeped in the style. Particularly satisfying are the many soloistic details that animate the score. Lehár was one of the few operetta composers of his era to orchestrate his own works, and one hears easily how the sense of subtle sophistication typifying his style is reinforced in this dimension, especially in the “diegetic” onstage dance music of act II.
In the title role, Michael Suttner displays a strong, ringing tenor but a throaty tightness when pressing at the top of his range. Most of the time, though, the role resides in a less-taxing, baritonal range, where the timbre has a pleasing clarity. The voice does warm as the production unfolds, becoming particularly strong and less effortful, from the final pages of act I onwards. He is also able to summon a heroic strength for the melancholic turns of phrase that bring down the curtain to act II (and which also infuse leitmotivically the dramatic crises of act III). The voice blends aptly with Ruth Ohlmann’s well-judged balance of dramatic soprano depth and bright edge. Her entrance waltz song, “Ich leb gerne an der Seine” with its catchy refrain “Paris, du Stadt der Träumen,” is particularly satisfying.
In the comic pairing (Lehárian operetta conventionally balances a dramatic/romantic set of leads with a comic “soubrette” pair), the Juliette and Armand of Ana-Maria Labin and Marko Kathol are also well matched. Labin has a silvery, chirpy top, and warm middle range capable of depth and pathos. With his light, baritonal tenor, Kathol matches these qualities. Their act II duet, “Mädel klein, Mädel fein” a light-hearted echo of the immediately preceding duet of the principals, is winning. Alfred Sramek’s Basil is suitably dark and wooly, but clear, and the thick stylized accents of Marika Lichter’s plummy but clean soprano are bound to provoke a smile, especially in her earthy couplet in the last act.
Arguably one of the strongest recordings in the whole Mörbisch operetta series, this is strongly recommended, and not just to die-hard operetta fans.
FANFARE: Christopher Williams
Works on This Recording
Der Graf Von Luxemburg by Franz Lehár
Stephan Paryla (Voice),
Johannes Beckmann (Voice),
Marko Kathol (Voice),
Ana-Maria Labin (Voice),
Marika Lichter (Voice),
Alfred Sramek (Voice),
Ruth Ingeborg Ohlmann (Voice),
Franz Leitner (Voice),
Michael Suttner (Voice)
Written: 1909; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Kulturzentrum Eisenstadt
Length: 24 Minutes 33 Secs.
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Introduction: Karneval! Ja du allerschonste Zeit (Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Volk von Paris (Brissard, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Der Teufel hol den Karneval (Juliette, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Boheme: Duet: Ein Stubchen so klein (Juliette, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Chanson: Ich leb gerne an der Seine (Rene, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Song: In all meinen Traumen (Rene)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Song: Ich bin verliebt (Prince Basil, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Quintet: Ein Scheck auf die englische Bank (Rene, Prince Basil, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Entrance: Heut noch wird ich Ehefrau (Angele, Prince Basil)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Finale: Frau Grafin, Sie erlauben (Angele, Prince Basil)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Bedaure gar sehr (Angele)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act I: Also, jetzt bin ich (Angele)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Introduction and Song: Ich danke, meine Herren ... (Rene, Prince Basil, Angele, Attendants)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Duet: Sind Sie von Sinnen, Herr Baron (Countess Kokozeff)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Duet: Schau'n Sie freundlichst mich an (Angele, Chorus)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Trio: Ach, sehn Sie doch, er ist ganz blass (Prince Basil)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Crimson clover: Der Handschuh, wie pikant (Rene)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Polka Dance: Ein Lowe war ich im Salon (Angele, Rene)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Finale: Angele, deren Liebe und Treu (Prince Basil, Girls)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Couplet: Ich will die Liebe geniessen' Ich komm als susse Braut (Angele, Rene)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: March: Trio: Packt die Liebe einen (Juliet, Prince Basil, Brissard)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Duet: Es duftet nach Trefle incarnat (Angele, Rene)
Der Graf von Luxembourg (The Count of Luxembourg): Act II: Finale: Bist du's lachendes Gluck (Angele, Rene)
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