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Kalman: Der Zigeunerprimas / Thompson, Ohio Light Opera


Release Date: 04/30/2002 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 510   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Emmerich Kálmán
Performer:  Lucas MeachemGrant KnoxDavid WannenJonathan Stinson,   ... 
Conductor:  J. Lynn Thompson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Emmerich Kálmán’s extraordinary achievements in music theater are not generally acknowledged in proportion to their importance in a developing international music theater style in the 1910s and 1920s, at least not in the US. We tend to think of his most famous works (Czardasfürstin and Gräfin Mariza, both recently produced and recorded in English versions by the Ohio Light Opera) as specifically Hapsburg in flavor, so brimming are they with waltzes and characteristic Hungarian and Gypsy colorations. However, Kálmán’s essential approach to melody and to parlando writing, especially in up-beat numbers, foreshadows American music theater as much as it represents a more popular shading of Viennese operetta. Read more

What is also frequently forgotten is that Kálmán himself saw his audience as a multi-national one, and premieres of Kálmán shows, in translation, would be scheduled for New York shortly after their Viennese debuts, even at the outset of his career. Zigeunerprimas, the third of his 23 operettas and the first to receive its initial, 1912 performance in Vienna, opened in New York two years later as Sári. His Gay Hussars had already premiered on Broadway in 1909 to only a moderate critical success, but Sári’s popularity made it the first of the composer’s many big Broadway successes. Ohio Light Opera’s recent performance and recording of Der Zigeunerprimas (or, “The Gypsy Virtuoso,” as the title most smoothly translates) can thus be seen as participating in an established tradition.

The choice of Zigeunerprimas also reflects a particular love of Ohio Light opera director James Stuart, who has led something of a Kálmán revival with his company and who provides the translation used here. In recent years, OLO has produced The Bayadere, Countess Maritza, and The Gypsy Princess, and has scheduled Autumn Maneuvers (“Die Herbstmanövern”) for the 2002 summer season.

Zigeunerprimas’s plot is driven by a generational and artistic conflict between Rácz, an aging and once popular gypsy violin virtuoso who represents an older, folk culture, and his son, Laczi, himself a musician, but one professionally trained in the classics and with ambitions to be a conductor. The older man, however, recognizes talent only in the form in which he himself possesses it, and never misses an opportunity to belittle the competence of his son. Though retired, the womanizing Rácz seeks to marry for a fourth time and decides on his niece, Juliska, with whom, however, his son is also in love. An old friend, the young Count Gaston, invites the old violinist to Paris to give a concert. Rácz refuses, because his heart had been broken there many years before, when his lover, a young Baroness, was taken away by her father, who did not approve of the match. In addition to the personal disdain signaled by his choice of wife, Rácz holds his son in such musical contempt that he changes his mind as soon as Laczi offers to go in his place. Gaston is happy that Rácz’s daughter Sári is going too, because he is in love with her.

The second act unfolds in Paris, and shows the developing affection between the two young couples, Juliska and Laczi, and Gaston and Sári, whose relationships are both complicated by familial objections. Unknown to his father, Laczi has been hired to conduct the court orchestra and, when Rácz fails to show up for the planned concert, is asked to take his father’s place. Far from the flamboyant, Paganiniesque roulades for which his father was famous, what Laczi plays is a sentimental waltz (to the same melody as a love duet he has incidentally just sung) that meets with the warm approval of the gathering. Rácz shows up in time to hear Laczi’s performance and at first demurs to play, concerned that doing so would upstage his son’s unexpected triumph. However, the assembled nobles goad him to play by insinuating that he is either jealous or embarrassed. With a flourish, Rácz launches into a wild cadenza, which, however, bores the guests. They leave him humiliated and alone.

The third act, which takes place at the boudoir of Gaston’s grandmother, resolves all the conflicts. Rácz has recognized the grandmother as the very baroness with whom he was once in love, enabling him freely to abandon his claim on Juliska to his son. He also realizes that his age—and passing musical fashions—mandates that he step aside. He considers casting his violin into the fire, but reconsiders, granting his “faithful Stradivarius” to his son. (In the New York version of this operetta, Sári, the play ends with the destruction of the violin, but Stuart has restored the original script for the Ohio production).

Kálmán has imbued this bittersweet tale with some of his warmest and most heartrendingly melancholic writing, without, however, caving in to the excesses of “Zigeunerkitsch” that can make some of his later, more famous scores (including Countess Mariza and, to a lesser extent, Czardasfürstin), tiring listening experiences. Befitting the fact that the work was slated to premiere in Vienna, Zigeunerprimas is actually much more heavily colored by the waltz and yields a plethora of memorably lilting tunes, especially “Love in Summertime” (which lingers in the mind long after the final curtain), Sari and Gaston’s soaring love duet “Come with Me and Dance with Me,” and, of course, Racz’s signature tune, “My Faithful Stradivari.” The “American” (or at least lightly commercial) style in this work is represented by Sári’s entrance aria, “Noble men, beggar men.” Holding the whole together are numerous musical interludes and underscorings, which are gently shaded to the shifting sentiments of the dialogue.

Lending mightily to the effectiveness of this recording is the work of concertmistress Eka Gogichashvili, who skillfully bends her tone and pitch to mimic the overwrought style of the aging violinist, as well as dashing off the many soloistic “gypsy” roulades with an assured sense of the idiom. In other respects, the orchestral contributions of the summer season show a slight drop-off from the previous summer’s Naughty Marietta (also reviewed in this issue), with a wan string tone and hit-or-miss brass intonation that is severely exposed by Kálmán’s lush scoring. However, conductor Thompson paces the score and sets a convincingly Central European atmosphere.

The cast is uniformly outstanding, with baritone Lucas Meacham turning in a tour-de-force in the demanding role of Rácz, his voice resplendent and incisively clear in his monologic “Time Has Robbed Me of My Youth,” unfolding seamlessly across his registral break. As Juliska, Jacquelyn Lengfelder displays a shrill yet pleasant soprano; her tone warms considerably over the course of the evening. More impressive is Sarah Jane McMahon as Sári, whose voice soars over the ensemble numbers, and snaps forcefully in the reprise of “Ha-za-zaa,” though it is less well-produced in the chirpy, up-tempo numbers with which her role begins. Thomas Glenn brings a light but smooth tenor to the role of Laczi, unsteady on top but otherwise smooth.

James Stuart’s translation captures the flavor of the German original and is delivered with flair by the singing actors. The inclusion of almost all the spoken dialogue pays enormous dividends here, as the musical interludes and almost constant underscoring are gently sensitive to the shifting sensibilities of the text. Of course, listeners who prefer to keep their light music in the background may program out most of the spoken sections. Recommended.

Christopher Williams: FANFARE
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Works on This Recording

1. Der Zigeunerprimas by Emmerich Kálmán
Performer:  Lucas Meachem (Baritone), Grant Knox (Tenor), David Wannen (Bass Baritone),
Jonathan Stinson (Baritone), John Musick (Bass), Wade Woodward (Bass),
Julie Wright (Soprano), Anthony Maida (Tenor), Lucy Lengfelder (Voice),
Jeffrey Miller (Tenor), Brian Woods (Tenor), Cassidy King (Baritone),
Sarah Jane McMahon (Soprano), Jacquelyn Lengfelder (Soprano), Isai Jess Muńoz (Tenor),
Timothy Oliver (Tenor), Thomas Glenn (Tenor)
Conductor:  J. Lynn Thompson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1912; Vienna, Austria 
Language: English 
Notes: Arias and spoken dialog translated into English by James Stuart. 
2. Der Zigeunerprimas by Emmerich Kálmán
Performer:  Lucas Meachem (Baritone), Grant Knox (Tenor), David Wannen (Bass Baritone),
Jonathan Stinson (Baritone), John Musick (Bass), Wade Woodward (Bass),
Julie Wright (Soprano), Anthony Maida (Tenor), Lucy Lengfelder (Voice),
Jeffrey Miller (Tenor), Brian Woods (Tenor), Cassidy King (Baritone),
Sarah Jane McMahon (Soprano), Jacquelyn Lengfelder (Soprano), Isai Jess Muńoz (Tenor),
Timothy Oliver (Tenor), Thomas Glenn (Tenor)
Conductor:  J. Lynn Thompson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 1912; Vienna, Austria 
Language: English 
Notes: Arias and spoken dialog translated into English by James Stuart. 

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