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Carl Zeller: The Birdseller / Motta, Ohio Light Opera

Release Date: 03/04/2008 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1012   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Carl Zeller
Performer:  Robin FarnsleyJosh KohlBoyd MackusSandra Ross,   ... 
Conductor:  Nathaniel Motta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 53 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

ZELLER The Birdseller Nathaniel Motta, cond; Robin Farnsley ( Christel ); Julie Wright ( Princess Marie ); Sandra Ross ( Countess Adelaide ); Josh Kohl ( Adam ); Boyd Mackus ( Prince Karl Ludwig ); Jack Beetle ( Count Stanislaus ); Paul Hindemith Read more ( Baron Weps ); Ohio Light Op O & Ch ALBANY TROY 1012 (2 CDs: 112 :34 Text and Translation)

Despite some obvious shortcomings, recordings by the Ohio Light Opera are usually of at least archival interest, when they uncover neglected works from the early days of American music theater. Especially valuable have been their efforts on behalf of Herbert, Romberg, Friml, and De Koven, not to mention their special attention to the often-neglected career of Austro-Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán (the most important purveyor of early 20th-century Viennese operetta not named Lehár), attention made possible by the special relationship between OLO’s late founder James Stuart and Kálmán’s widow. They have produced complete, uncut recordings of works by these composers that have otherwise gone unrepresented in the catalog.

So it was with some puzzlement that I approached this English-language recording from the 2007 Festival of Carl Zeller’s 1891 hit Der Vogelhändler. With its specifically Tyrolean setting and references, this piece has never traveled well outside the German-speaking world. Moreover, it exists in a fine, complete studio recording from 1974, the golden age of EMI’s house operetta troupe, including a young Adolph Dallapozza, Anneliese Rothenberger, Gisela Litz, and Walter Berry, and also in one of the stronger efforts from the thoroughly professional Mörbisch Lake Festival in Burgenland, Austria. Here, from the Ohioans, we have an English-language effort, in rhyming translation, which commemorates an attempt to introduce a charming, unfamiliar work to its Midwestern audience. The question is whether it transcends being a mere keepsake for festival attendees.

A mixed student and professional company also brings mixed results when captured by the microphones. As the festival’s recent release of orchestral excerpts shows, shoddy tuning can quickly sour when combined with spare, exposed orchestration and inconsistent phrasing. The overture, for instance, gets the evening off to an inauspicious start. At the same time, this recording boasts some of OLO’s strongest performances in the romantic lead roles of the mail-maid Christel and the Papageno-like bird seller, Adam. Although the role was originally taken by Johann Strauss, Jr.’s favorite comic baritone, Alexander Girardi, Josh Kohl brings one of the strongest tenor voices I have heard from an OLO production, ringing convincingly in its upper range, cutting clearly and richly against the well-drilled chorus. Though marginally less consistent, Robin Farnsley’s flexibility and tight vibrato meet the coloratura demands of Christel winningly. Jack Beetle’s Count Stanislaus is also charming and warm-toned. As the snarling, cynical villain, Baron Weps, Paul Hindemith shows his youth, with a light baritone that cannot project the gravitas necessary to the task.

It is, in the end, a thoroughly entertaining show. The dialogue is neither so arch nor so archly delivered as one finds in OLO’s Victor Herbert productions, for instance. The plot, a conventional mix of love triangles and class conflict, leavened by the feckless naiveté of the principals, wears well even in translation. Nathaniel Motta guides the charming rustic dances and lilting, almost (but not quite) Straussian waltzes smoothly and with an easy forward propulsion that argues strongly for Zeller’s merits as an effective, overlooked professional, and for this work as an inspired gem. It will bring new audiences to the work, and on those grounds, it is warmly recommended.

FANFARE: Christopher Williams
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Works on This Recording

Der Vogelhändler by Carl Zeller
Performer:  Robin Farnsley (Soprano), Josh Kohl (Tenor), Boyd Mackus (Baritone),
Sandra Ross (Mezzo Soprano), Julie Wright (Soprano), Jack Beetle (Tenor),
Paul Hindemith (Baritone)
Conductor:  Nathaniel Motta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1891; Vienna, Austria 
Length: 113 Minutes 0 Secs. 

Featured Sound Samples

The Birdseller

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