WGBH Radio WGBH Radio theclassicalstation.org

Herbert: The Fortune Teller / Byess, Ohio Light Opera

Herbert / Maples / Ohio Light Opera / Byess
Release Date: 11/08/2011 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1326/27  
Composer:  Victor Herbert
Conductor:  Steven Byess
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera ChorusOhio Light Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

HERBERT The Fortune Teller Steven Byess, cond; Amy Maples ( Musette/Irma ); Stephen Faulk ( Capt. Ladislas ); David Kelleher-Flight ( Sandor ); Elisa Matthews ( Mlle. Pompom ); Logan Walsh ( Count ); Gary Moss ( Fresco ); Ohio Light Op Fest O & Ch Read more ALBANY 1326/27 (2 CDs: 103:59 Text and Translation) Live: Wooster 2011

Irish-born and German-trained Victor Herbert was a relative newcomer to the New York music scene in the 1890s but already a consummate musician, fertile tunesmith, and expert orchestrator. It is little wonder that his gifts were recognized quickly and that in less than 10 years after his arrival on these shores he was being given opportunities to compose for the flourishing musical theater in New York City. His paradigm was based on the Viennese operas of Franz von Suppé, Johann Strauss Jr., and others with a dash of Offenbach and a pinch of Gilbert and Sullivan added, but written to English texts and American tastes. He was so successful at this task he produced the music for more than 40 stage works, more than Strauss, Franz Lehár, and Emmerich Kalman, more than Arthur Sullivan, Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, and Sigmund Romberg. He is known as the Father of American Operetta and the work here, The Fortune Teller, was among his first major successes. Written for the newly formed Alice Nielson Comic Opera Company and its attractive young star of the same name, The Fortune Teller premiered in Toronto in September 1898 and moved to New York 12 days later, opening at Wallack’s Theater on September 26 to much acclaim.

The libretto is typical operetta fare. Irma, a pupil in a Budapest Opera House ballet school, is heiress to a large fortune, unbeknownst to her. Count Berezowski, a penniless member of the nobility, discovers this and determines to marry Irma, with the aid of the ballet master, Fresco, whom he will bribe with a cut of the booty. But Irma and her beau, Captain Ladislas (misidentified as Stanislas in the cast list), a Hungarian hussar, have other ideas, and they run away, she to take on the role of her twin brother, Fedor, who has apparently deserted from Ladislas’s regiment (don’t ask; it’s even more complicated) and faces a court martial if discovered missing. Immediately thereafter turns up a band of itinerant Gypsies with a look-alike for Irma, the Gypsy fortune-teller Musette. The Count is overjoyed, believing his dancer heiress has returned, and claims her for his own. The Gypsies are quite happy to “sell” Musette to Fresco as Irma’s stand-in, knowing well the headstrong Gypsy girl will do whatever she pleases. Musette becomes intrigued with the idea of being a rich Countess, but she also has a boyfriend, the Gypsy Sandor, who finds little humor in the whole situation. Irma’s missing brother Fedor also has a girlfriend, the abandoned Mlle. Pompom (Pompon in earlier texts I have seen), who arrives to further add to the confusion. Needless to say, all of this complicated silliness is resolved in the third act and everyone is matched up satisfactorily, and the no-account Count is foiled in his attempt to grab the girl and the money. The librettist is careful not to schedule appearances of Irma, Musette, or Fedor at the same time, for they are all to be played by the same singer/actress.

I have not heard the Ohio Light Opera Company previously, but its production of The Fortune Teller is a pretty good one. Apparently, the company holds tryouts every year to find young singers to participate in the productions and fill all the roles necessary in the two-month summer season. In Amy Maples, who plays the dual (or triple) leads in this operetta, they have identified a very good one; her light, lyric soprano voice is a perfect fit for operetta, and she excels here. My only complaint is that she and Mlle. Pompom sound too much alike and can become a bit twittery at times. The Sandor of David Kelleher-Flight also stands out for his fine singing; his Gypsy Lullaby in act II is a disc highlight. Less easy on the ear are the Count of Logan Walsh and the Fresco, sung by veteran Gary Moss. They both do manage to sing passably in their smaller roles, but their real contributions are in providing much of the comedic charm of the work. The young cast gets a bit hammy with the dialog now and then. The pit orchestra plays well for the most part but sounds underpowered at times, and the chorus is a touch ragged. I’m not sure if these ensembles take on some of the Wooster music students for the summer, but one would expect they do. The company apparently performs seven or eight new works a season, so the musicians and singers are scrambling to learn a lot of new music, and perhaps it shows a bit, at least in this performance. There seems to be no audience or stage noise; I wonder if they might be recording in a studio? An English libretto is provided with the booklet.

With the few European record labels participating in this genre more interested in reviving Viennese, German, and French works, I am highly appreciative of Albany Records and the folks in Wooster for reviving and recording some of the American classics of the musical stage as well, even if Ohio Light Opera often performs and records the European classics in addition. I will certainly be investigating other recorded productions by the company, including other Herbert works, in the near future; they seem to have been well covered in the pages of Fanfare . Recommended.

FANFARE: Bill White
Read less

Works on This Recording

The Fortune Teller by Victor Herbert
Conductor:  Steven Byess
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera Chorus,  Ohio Light Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1898; USA 

Customer Reviews

Be the first to review this title
Review This Title