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Kalman: The Carnival Fairy / Byess, Sperry, Knox, Allen, Ballenger, Faulk, Ohio Light Opera

Release Date: 12/11/2012 
Label:  Albany Records   Catalog #: 1391   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Emmerich Kálmán
Performer:  Jacob AllenTara SperryStephen FaulkNatalie Ballenger,   ... 
Conductor:  Steven Byess
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KÁLMÁN The Carnival Fairy Steven Byess, cond; Tara Sperry (Countess Alexandra); Grant Knox (Viktor); Jacob Allen (Hubert); Natalie Ballenger (Lori); Stephen Faulk (Count Mereditt); Mark Snyder (Duke Ottokar); Ohio Light Opera O & Read more Ch ALBANY 1391-92 (2 CDs: 114:19 Text and Translation) Live: Wooster 2012

Emmerich Kálmán’s operetta The Carnival Fairy has gone through quite a few guises in its performance history. It began life in Budapest in 1915 written in Hungarian and titled Zsuzsi Kisasszony (Miss Suzi). The story is of a young village postmistress who goes to the big city but gets homesick. The work appeared on Broadway one year later as Miss Springtime in English translation with a revised book by P. G. Wodehouse and four interpolated songs by Jerome Kern. Miss Springtime had a quite successful run in New York and also proved popular on tour. Kálmán, looking to duplicate his success in the Germanic countries, had a completely new book prepared in German and modified his score to match. This version opened in Vienna in 1917 as Die Faschingfee (Carnival Fairy) and sold out the theater for more than a year. One year later the German version moved to Berlin with popular star Fritzi Massary in the title role and Kálmán again had book and score revised to make the piece more of a tour de force for the highly popular soprano. Finally, the Berlin version was brought back to America last year, translated into English and produced by the Ohio Light Opera Company (OLO) during their summer season in Wooster. There it was misleadingly titled Miss Springtime; neither book nor score was similar to the Broadway version of 1916. This current Albany Records set is a recording of the OLO production, now more fittingly retitled The Carnival Fairy.

Carnival, of course, is not the sleazy traveling road show with thrill rides and sucker games that used to appear every summer at the local fairgrounds, but the holiday season between 12th Night and Lent celebrated in many largely Catholic nations, and in our own country exemplified by the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. Kálmán’s rewritten romantic story for German consumption is now set in Munich. Hungarian Countess Alexandra, already engaged to Duke Ottokar in a marriage of convenience, goes out slumming to a rowdy bar during Carnival masked and incognito, and promptly falls for the young painter, Viktor Ronai. Ronai is also smitten, but doesn’t realize just with whom he is flirting. The second romantic pair here is Alexandra’s hapless chaperone, Hubert, and his jealous girlfriend, Lori. Of course the Countess has gotten herself into a hopeless social mess for one in her position and there are several typical operetta mistaken identities and misunderstandings and a few more characters appearing before all is sorted out happily prior to the act III finale. The musical score proves quite entertaining as well; there are several very tuneful numbers, mostly for the Countess or Ronai or both. If Carnival Fairy does not quite measure up to Kálmán’s best, it certainly deserves a hearing by modern ears, especially by those of us who really enjoy this kind of music.

Young Utah native Tara Sperry takes the lead part of Countess Alexandra here, and her bright light soprano voice proves nearly ideal for the role. The countess is Hungarian, and Sperry affects an accent that seems to come and go with the situation, sometimes getting in the way of her enunciation. Like many Americans, I learned my Hungarian accent from the glamorous Gabor sisters, and this isn’t it, but I suspect Sperry may be too young even to have been influenced by the endless reruns of Green Acres . The soprano is singing in well over half of Kálmán’s songs and ensembles; in fact, she pretty much carries this operetta. Sometimes Sperry’s transitions from midrange to high notes sound noticeably awkward, but she brings plenty of youthful sparkle and a confident savoir faire to the role of the Countess. Grant Knox, as the painter Viktor Ronai, is the other principal with a substantial bit to sing. He possesses a good, light tenor voice and also sings well, but sounds very young in the part and tends to over enunciate in the dialog. It makes Knox’s portrayal seem less than natural, but then using very young American singers to put on elegantly sophisticated European light comedy will always prove a challenge for the OLO. The second romantic pair of lovers, the Hubert of Jacob Allen and the Lori of Natalie Ballenger are both sung quite competently, but neither have very much music in this version. Other counts and dukes come and go with very little impact musically.

On this occasion the OLO Orchestra sounds pretty well rehearsed and plays well, save for a squally flute in act II, but the chorus sounds a bit ragged. The booklet tells us the dialog has been truncated, which is odd, since there is some 25 minutes or more of space left on the two discs in the set. Surely, Albany could have provided something closer to the performance version. Since the English text provided in the booklet matches what’s on the recording, it must be truncated as well. What there is of it seems well done and the singing is in almost idiomatic English, a credit to the translator, Artistic Director Steven Daigle. With this operetta in particular, there is a decided lack of any definitive performing version, but I am thankful for what I can get, and thankful in particular to OLO for resurrecting this entertaining piece of popular musical history. Recommended.

FANFARE: Bill White
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Works on This Recording

Die Faschingsfee by Emmerich Kálmán
Performer:  Jacob Allen (Baritone), Tara Sperry (Soprano), Stephen Faulk (Tenor),
Natalie Ballenger (Soprano), Christopher Cobbett (Baritone), Grant Knox (Tenor),
Mark Snyder (Tenor)
Conductor:  Steven Byess
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ohio Light Opera
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; Vienna, Austria 

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