Notes and Editorial Reviews
Wolfgang Bozic, cond; Morenike Fadayomi (
); Zora Antonic (
); Reinhard Alessandri (
); Thomas Zisterer (
); Thomas Malik (
); Gerhard Balluch (
); Franz Lehár O; Bad Ischl
Lehár Festival Ch
cpo 777 148 (2 CDs: 126:09) Live: Bad Ischl 2005
, from its premiere in 1911, did not enjoy the kind of success enjoyed by its three resoundingly popular predecessors (
Die lustige Witwe
Der Graf von Luxemburg
, 1909; and
, 1910) and no wonder, as its musical and dramatic arguments are altogether lighter, gentler, and subtler. Yet contemporary press accounts declared it finer and more elegant than any of its predecessors. It forms the final link in a trilogy of works conceived at roughly the same time, which map out divergent directions for the development of Lehár’s operetta style in the wake of
The Merry Widow
. These directions would then determine the basic stylistic parameters of the composer’s later career: the satirical waltz-operetta, the ethnic/orientalist, and the drawing room melodrama-comedy.
This 2005 live production from the Lehár Festival in Bad Ischl, Upper Austria, the resort in the center of the fabled Salzkammergut where Lehár made his home for most of his life, died, and is buried, makes the best possible case for the work, and a charming introduction to the high standards attending revivals of Lehar rarities at this well-heeled, picture-postcard festival. The musical material reflects the gentle comedy of errors and relationships of the plot, and its mundane setting, in the social world of factory upper management and the women they love.
Set in Paris, this “social operetta,” as the booklet notes call it, opens as the title character is regaled for her 20th birthday by admiring workers at a glass factory. Together the workers pool 1,200 francs to give as a trousseau to a girl they think of as their collective goddaughter. She has been raised by the foreman, Larousse, after she was abandoned when her mother ran away with her biological father, and she longs for the more glamorous world in which she imagines her mother to dwell. Enter Octave Flaubert, the bumbling dandy who has been chosen to be the new factory owner; though he is smitten with her, she rebuffs his attentions from the start. Meanwhile, Octave’s friend Dagobert is carrying on his own affair with Pipsi, a shady seller of men’s underwear, but also a diva extraordinaire. The factory’s assistant bookkeeper, the pathetically comic Prunelles, recognizes her as his playmate from a previous vacation trip, and complications ensue.
Eva is entranced by the attractions of Paris, and Octave tries to win her by buying her a stunning outfit and inviting her to a party hosted by him. Although she has come on her own volition, her “godfather” workers burst in to save her from what they think is a seduction. Octave shields her and claims her as his fiancé, but this is news to Eva, who flees, flabbergasted. Disillusioned, she teams up with Pipsi to go to the big city, where she becomes a party girl, trying to forget Octave. But he shows up anyway, and the power of the Cinderella tale finally wins her over.
That this twisted and disturbingly seedy retelling of the Cinderella tale is set to such elegant, gorgeous music is unsettling, but the musical results are resplendent here. The star of this recording is doubtlessly British-born, part-Nigerian soprano Morenike Fadayomi, whose dusky vocal timbre opens onto a creamy forte. Her tone production is even across the registers, its occasionally husky quality adding interest to the vocal fabric. She is perfectly matched to the ringing tenor of Reinhard Alessandri, who displays the requisite strengths of the Lehár tenor lead: crooning fortes and caressing, long breathed pianos. On the comic side, Zora Antonic brings a blowsy, vibrato-heavy voice to the comic mezzo Pipsi. Her vocal strengths emerge in her second-act duet with Dagobert, sung with the pleasant light tenor of Thomas Malik, where she reveals an impressive feeling for ensemble balance when not singing at full voice. She is less successful in her act III duet with Fadayomi, the vocal timbres clashing uncomfortably.
The music frequently reflects a general, well-shaped but businesslike quality befitting the factory setting, though there are some surprising exoticisms, as after an exchange between Octave and Larousse in the act I finale. The sophistication of the score emerges as the show progresses. In act II, a melodrama with piano is interrupted by fragments of a fragile waltz, which begin to soar and surge into Octave’s waltz song, then reform into a richly scored unison duet for the two principals, demonstrating Lehár’s abundant melodic artistry. As usual for this composer, the score abounds in waltz songs, and repays repeated listening.
The conducting, pacing, and shaping of the orchestral textures are nothing short of magical, with balances carefully calibrated and a gentle, gracefully shaped swing to the many waltz melodies. Certainly, this is one of the best-played of any entry in cpo’s extensive and ongoing Lehár survey.
The booklet includes no text or translation, though a thorough synopsis is given in three languages. The recording presents complete dialogue, delivered idiomatically and in a naturally balanced perspective by the singers in the production (none of the nonsense involving narrators or actors different from the singers, as negatively affects some other recordings in the encyclopedic cpo survey of Lehár rarites). Although there are many passages of melodrama, which show a subtle modulation from melody to speech, sections of pure dialogue are separately banded, so they may be programmed out by listeners annoyed by such things. This is the only complete recording of this work of which I am aware, so it is self-recommending.
FANFARE: Christopher Williams
Works on This Recording
Eva by Franz Lehár
Reinhard Alessandri (Tenor),
Zora Antonic (Soprano),
Morenike Fadayomi (Soprano),
Gerhard Balluch (Tenor),
Thomas Zisterer (Baritone),
Karl Herbst (Spoken Vocals),
Peter Andreev (Bass Baritone),
Florian Widmann (Baritone),
Thomas Malik (Tenor),
Christian Giglmayr (Baritone)
Franz Lehár Orchestra,
Bad Ischl Lehár Festival Chorus
Written: 1911; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Bad Ischl Festival Hall, Austria
Length: 126 Minutes 9 Secs.
Notes: Bad Ischl Festival Hall, Austria (08/22/2005 - 08/24/2005)
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