J. STRAUSS II Die Fledermaus • Herbert von Karajan, cond; Waldemar Kmentt (Eisenstein); Hilde Gueden (Rosalinde); Erika Köth (Adele); Walter Berry (Falke); Eberhard Wächter (Frank); Giuseppe Zampieri (Alfred); Regina Resnik (Read more class="ARIAL12i">Orlofsky); Vienna St Op Ch; Vienna PO • DECCA 000830202 (2 CDs: 142:52 Text and Translation)
Die Fledermaus, unlike many operettas (including some by Strauss which he regarded as having more substantial or operatic scores), has found its way onto the stages of many opera houses. The second-act festivities at Prince Orlofsky’s have frequently been adapted to suit a variety of special events not necessarily related to the bat’s revenge. Ballet music and songfests have been inserted with varying results. The third act, set in the prison, has also been subject to tampering, especially substituting new (and often topical) humor to suit the needs of comic personalities assuming the role of Frosch. Of the several videos I’ve seen of Fledermaus, none are faithful to the textual and musical sources, although I’ve enjoyed watching most of them.
More fidelity to the Fledermaus of Strauss and librettists Carl Haffner and Richard Genée can be found on records. The lyrics are pretty much retained (unless sung in a language other than German), but dialogue is usually abbreviated or eliminated. Musically there may be snips and cuts here and there, but mostly the scores are recorded intact, except for the ballet music. Strauss wrote a ballet in five sections specifically for Fledermaus. If a ballet is included, Voices of Spring or Unter Donner und Blitz are often substituted. This 1960 Decca recording used to contain the original Strauss five-section Fledermaus ballet; at least my memory of its being there on LPs concurs with a description of the recording in the Metropolitan Opera Guide to Recorded Opera. Apparently, Decca dispensed with the ballet in order to fit the opera on two CDs.
Decca did retain the interpolated Gala section however, which was the other notable distinction of this recording, and probably for many people the reason to own this particular Fledermaus. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, let me briefly describe it, as I have not listed the performers in the head note. Eleven opera luminaries from the mid-20th century (Renata Tebaldi, Fernando Corena, Birgit Nilsson, Mario Del Monaco, Teresa Berganza, Joan Sutherland, Jussi Björling, Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Ettore Bastianini, and Ljuba Welitsch) entertain the guests at Prince Orlofsky’s ball with an assortment of musical selections. Some of these entrees are predictable and sung with a straight face, such as Price’s rendition of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” Other selections are eccentric and whimsical, especially Birgit Nilsson singing “I Could Have Danced All Night” (images of Eliza Doolittle going to the Embassy Ball dressed as a Valkryie come to mind) and “Anything You Can Do” (Annie Get Your Gun) sung by Simionato and Bastianini. Other selections are from operettas (mostly by Lehár) and an assortment of Neapolitan songs. This Gala section has little to do with the plot, but is just there to be enjoyed. The Nilsson selection has nearly assumed a life of its own.
There are reasons beyond the Gala to savor this recording. It is a buoyant, joyous affair, full of froth and merriment. Occasionally the dialogue runs a bit long, notably Frosch’s chatty scene (8:41) at the beginning of act III, but it is helped along by the insertion of musical snippets and underscoring. Unlike the spoken sections in some other Fledermaus recordings, the dialogue in this one is lively and sounds like it’s actually part of the performance and delivered as if the speakers were on stage rather than gathered around a microphone.
As I write this, there are nearly 30 Fledermaus recordings currently on the market; six are DVDs. This is one of three CDs conducted by Karajan. In 1955 he led a recording for EMI that is, by and large inferior to this 1960 Decca. The mono sound is not nearly as spacious, the singers are of variable quality, and Orlofsky is sung by a tenor. Abbreviated dialogue is included, but no Gala or ballet. Another monophonic set, currently released on RCA, was made during performance on New Year’s Eve, 1960. Several of the stars from that event (Gueden, Berry, Wächter, Zampieri, Klein, and Kunz) join Karajan in the studio for this Decca stereo set.
This particular recording has had, and continues to enjoy a long and active life. This is its second CD release, now slightly reduced in price, but it still includes a libretto in German and English. There probably isn’t a definitive recorded Fledermaus. All of them are subject to cuts, or additions, or substitutions that achieve varying results. There is a Teldec under Harnoncourt that includes the Fledermaus Ballet but eliminates the dialogue and instead inserts some pointless and intrusive monologues delivered by Frosch. A star-studded cast that features Domingo as conductor and singing the role of Eisenstein has a Gala of Strauss operetta excerpts performed by the stars of the recordings as themselves. Unter Donner und Blitz is used in lieu of the ballet Strauss composed specifically for Fledermaus. There are two recordings sung in English: a mono set from the early 1950s (which I don’t believe has ever been released on CD) and a live performance from Sydney with Sutherland under Bonynge. The performance is so-so, but enjoyable (Sutherland is wonderfully comic); however the sonics are poor. A single disc of highlights in English with Anna Moffo on RCA is very good, but sadly nla.
If Decca had retained the ballet, this 1960 Karajan release could go to the top of the list for recommendations. It’s still worth having, especially if you want a Fledermaus with dialogue and a Gala event. If you want just the music, consider the Harnoncourt (Teldec) and edit out the three Frosch intrusions. A midprice EMI set under Willi Boskovsky has most of the music plus an interpolation for Fischer-Dieskau. The dialogue has been edited to the bare essentials, just enough to advance the plot. The recording is noteworthy for Brigitte Fassbaender’s wonderful Orlofsky.
When Decca/Karajan recorded this work in 1960, it was a major, big-budget release. Even the packaging was elegant. Most of the participants are now retired, many have passed away. In addition to being a delightful Fledermaus, it now has a patina of nostalgia. For those of us old enough to remember this recording when it was first released, listening to it again brings back many memories. For readers who may be discovering it for the first time, pay no attention to the fact that it’s nearly 50 years old; it’s as fresh and young as ever.
Die Fledermausby Johann Strauss Jr. Performer:
Ljuba Welitsch (Soprano),
Leontyne Price (Soprano),
Hilde Gueden (Soprano),
Waldemar Kmentt (Tenor),
Eberhard Wächter (Baritone),
Regina Resnik (Mezzo Soprano),
Martin Klein (Tenor),
Jussi Björling (Tenor),
Erika Köth (Soprano),
Ettore Bastianini (Baritone),
Giulietta Simionato (Mezzo Soprano),
Walter Berry (Bass Baritone),
Dame Joan Sutherland (Soprano),
Teresa Berganza (Mezzo Soprano),
Mario Del Monaco (Tenor),
Birgit Nilsson (Soprano),
Fernando Corena (Bass),
Giuseppe Zampieri (Tenor),
Renata Tebaldi (Soprano),
Erika Schubert (Mezzo Soprano),
Erich Kunz (Baritone)
Herbert von Karajan
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic Written: 1874; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 06/1960 Venue: Sofiensaal, Vienna Length: 143 Minutes 0 Secs. Language: German
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
An Important Correction to the previous reviewJanuary 20, 2014By E. Lienhard (West Chester, PA)See All My Reviews"I am in complete agreement with the favorable reviews given this recording, and it has been in my possession since its first issue (on vinyl)in 1960. I simply felt compelled to correct the reference to the Gala. Mario Del Monaco does not make any appearance. The imcomparable Swedish tenor, Jussi Bjoerling sings Dein ist mein Ganzes Herz in Swedish and German, a performance recorded just months before his untimely death on September 9, 1960. I must question if the reviewer even listened to the Gala, as these two voices are about as dissimilar as two tenors could be."Report Abuse
Classic RecordingSeptember 14, 2013By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Johann Strauss' madcap operetta from the Golden Era of Viennese light music must surely rank as one of the most tuneful and boisterously fun works that this genre has ever produced. Filled with humor, wit, sarcasm, even a fair amount of social criticism, Die Fledermaus' brilliant orchestration and exquisite singing cannot fail to delight and entertain any fan of high quality music. Herbert von Karajan's famous 1960 recording with the Vienna Philharmonc Orchestra and a fabulous cast is a strong validation of these opening comments. Driving the orchestra and singers along at a breakneck tempo, Karajan creates an atmosphere of Viennese hedonism that will undoubtedly have you both laughing and marvelling at the composer's ingenious creativity. In Act 2, the recording adds a special effect, thus justifying the recording's reputation as a 'gala'. This is the inclusion of a number of guest singers (e.g.- Leontyne Price, Renata Tebaldi, Birgit Nillson, Mario del Monaco, among others) who perform cameo singing roles in Prince Orlovsky's great Act 2 masked ball festivities. From that standpoint, this recording thus goes a bit beyond what Strauss himself produced, but the result is effective and appropriately integrated into the plot as a gift from Emperor Franz Joseph to Orlovsky's party. All singers (guest artists and regular cast) are sensational throughout the entire recording, as is the world class performance of the VPO, which is, so to speak, playing on its home field here. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Erich Kunz's incredible work (spoken, not sung) as the totally inebriated jailer Frosch. His slurred, dazed alcoholic stupor brings Act 3 to life in a hilarious and touching fashion, thereby setting the stage for the rousing, confrontational, and yet redemptive conclusion. Bottom line- I am sure that you will find this wonderful recording highly entertaining and well worth hearing many times. One caution- if you follow the libretto (which you should), be prepared to move at lightning speed- that's the tempo set throughout the entire recording, as noted above. Happy listening! Absolutely recommended."Report Abuse