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Lehár: Die lustige Witwe / Welser-Möst, Lott, Hampson

Release Date: 05/15/2008 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 55152   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Franz Lehár
Performer:  Kurt AzesbergerRobert PoultonRudolf SchaschingHoward Quilla Croft,   ... 
Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraGlyndebourne Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 42 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

The text for the narration, written by Tom Stoppard, is spoken in English.


One of the products of Glyndebourne Festival Opera's banishment from their Sussex home last year was a Royal Festival Hall concert performance of a work they would never dare tackle at Glyndebourne itself—Franz Lehar's Die lustige Witwe (''The Merry Widow''). On the evidence of these two CDs, how lucky we are that part of the arrangement was that EMI should record the performance! We were certainly in need of a digital recording of the work, and in musical terms this meets the requirements extremely well. Walter Legge's 1950s idea that one needed Viennese or, at the very least, German performers to get the essence of a work such as
Read more this now seems curiously outdated in an era when English sopranos and American baritones are cast indiscriminately in works of whatever nationality. To be sure, the sung words don't trip as naturally off the tongue in this performance as they do in either of Legge's classic 1953 and 1962 EMI recordings with Schwarzkopf. However, this is by any reckoning an extremely well sung performance.

Felicity Lott sings the Widow with rich lyricism, trilling and soaring gloriously above her male admirers in her entrance number. If Elzbieta Szmytka is not quite the pure-voiced soprano Valencienne one might hope for, John Aler is an ideal choice for encompassing Camille de Rosillon's challenging top notes. Above all, Thomas Hampson sails gloriously through a role that was written for a tenor buffo but sits beautifully upon his flexible baritone. His really is as commanding an interpretation of a testing role as any on disc, and his contribution to the Act 3 love duet is exquisite. But what really holds this performance together, and ultimately demonstrates the virtues of at least having a native Austrian at the heart of things, is the conducting of Franz Welser-Most. Whether in the more boisterous party music or in carressing the LPO's muted strings in the Vilja-Lied, he brings out all the charm and beauty of the score with supreme naturalness.

So far I have referred to the musical values. What was understandably done to link the musical numbers and introduce the work to an English audience was to provide a humorous English narration. Written by Tom Stoppard, this is immaculately delivered in off-hand fashion by Sir Dirk Bogarde: ''Remember the fan! The fan in The Merry Widow plays much the same part as the handkerchief in Othello.'' The inclusion of Sir Dirk's narration may well be sufficient justification for a purchase of this set by his admirers, as also by those who want a souvenir of the Royal Festival Hall occasion.... Every bit as much a Merry Widow for the 1990s as Walter Legge's outstanding productions were for the 1950s and 1960s.

-- Andrew Lamb, Gramophone [9/1994]
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Works on This Recording

Die lustige Witwe by Franz Lehár
Performer:  Kurt Azesberger (Tenor), Robert Poulton (Baritone), Rudolf Schasching (Tenor),
Howard Quilla Croft (), Christopher Parke (), Felicity Lott (Soprano),
Stuart MacIntire (), Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Elzbieta Szmytka (Mezzo Soprano),
John Aler (Tenor), Dirk Bogarde (Spoken Vocals)
Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1905; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/1993 
Venue:  Live  Royal Festival Hall, London 
Length: 101 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Language: German 

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