Notes and Editorial Reviews
Max Schönherr, cond; Liesl Andergast (
); Franz Borsos (
); Anton Dermota (
); Henny Herze (
); Fred Liewehr (
); Lizzi Holzschuh (
Vienna Radio O & Ch
CPO 777 029-2 (2 CDs: 88:55 operetta + 32:08 bonus) Broadcast: Vienna 1945
Eight Lehar rarities from the German Radio Archive 1933-1949
(The God Husband) is an early (1904) operetta by Franz Lehár with librettists Victor Léon and Leo Stein, the same trio that less than a year later was to score with the blockbuster hit, The
Merry Widow. Der Göttergatte
, and its current obscurity is probably pretty much deserved. Léon and Stein were attempting to emulate the success of Jacques Offenbach in Paris when they concocted a farcical story about the gods and goddesses from antiquity, but found they had no taste or aptitude for the biting social satire that was a hallmark of the famous Frenchman’s best works. The three collaborators also discovered the Viennese theater-going public had little taste for the genre either, the production closed after only 37 performances at the Carltheater. Lehár later tried to rescue the music in revised form as
Die ideale Gattin
(The Ideal Wife) in 1913 and again in a rerevision as
(The Tango Queen) in 1921, both also in Vienna, with little better success.
The story itself is a reworking of the Amphitryon legend in which Jupiter visits the lovely Alkmene in the guise of her husband, Amphitryon, a general of Thebes, while he is away at war. In the legend the pair beget the boy Heracles. When Jupiter’s wife Juno discovers the deception, she is very jealous and angry, eventually becoming instrumental in the young hero Heracles’s early death. In this version, a Greek theater director travels to the muse on Mt. Olympus seeking a story that will entertain the Greek people. He immediately gets an audience with Jupiter himself, and the Father of the Gods concocts the plan to travel to Thebes for an adventure story that will then be related to the people in the form of an operetta: thus, the birth of operetta. Of course, real hanky-panky almost never occurs in operetta, there is an unwritten rule against it, so in Léon and Stein’s rendition Juno gets wind of the plan and shows up in Thebes herself. She takes on the guise of the beautiful wife, Alkmene, thereby assuring that any begetting to be done will be strictly spousal. The real Theban general hears of his wife’s supposed infidelity and travels home, where Jupiter’s ruse is quickly unmasked. Our shamefaced god husband is forced to renounce any similar adventures in the future (a vow, you may be sure, he has no intention of keeping). The portion of the legend about offspring is jettisoned by Léon and Stein, and I’m not entirely sure if we ever discover what became of the theater director’s potential musical comedy.
This current CPO release is billed as a historical recording, the taping being made for Viennese radio on March 15, 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II in Europe. Vienna at the time had attracted many of the finest singers in Europe, partly because, unlike many other European cities, the theaters continued to function until the Allies bombed the State Opera House early in 1945, and even after, in other venues. The cast here is a remarkably good one, led by Anton Dermota, then considered the finest Mozart tenor in Europe, in the role of Amphitryon, the Theban general. An actor supplies all his dialog. Jupiter is played by tenor Franz Borsos and soprano Henny Herze is the wife, Alkmene. Liesl Andergast is Juno. Several of the cast members are not identified, perhaps they are unknown. All of the singing is impeccably performed by this cast of opera stars and actors, and the singers are remarkably well recorded. Two numbers are cut and some dialog shortened or rewritten to allow the work to come in at just under 90 minutes, allowing time for a brief introduction and no commercials for a one and a half hour broadcast. The Vienna Radio Orchestra comes off a bit less well than the singers, due mostly to the recording technology available in 1945. There is some bass drop-off, the violins seem a bit thin, and their high notes don’t record well, and of course when they all play loudly any sound clarity is lost. The spoken dialogue, performed for the most part by local actors, sounds quite natural and dramatically viable. Bonus material on the second CD includes three Lehár songs from other venues sung by tenors Herbert Ernst Groh and Richard Tauber, and soprano Ester Rethy. Also performed are some Lehár orchestral music, including a march, two waltzes, and two short pieces for violin and orchestra. The latter two give us a bit of gypsy style music in which the violin is well played and well recorded. Sound is what you would expect from the era but with little additional tape noise (possibly filtered?).
CPO does no favors for its English speaking audience with no synopsis or libretto for this rarely performed work. Characters are not identified with the song selections on the track listing, so it is difficult to identify exactly who is singing, especially in the ensemble pieces. There are no bios of the historical performers, which one might find of interest, except for conductor Max Schönherr. Nonetheless, operetta fans will want this set, and the recording holds up remarkably well after nearly 70 years. Recommended.
FANFARE: Bill White
Works on This Recording
Der Göttergatte by Franz Lehár
Lizzi Holzschuh (Soprano),
Franz Borsos (Tenor),
Henny Herze (Voice),
Liesl Andergast (Voice),
Anton Dermota (Tenor),
Fred Liewehr (Bass)
Vienna Radio Orchestra,
Vienna Radio Chorus
Date of Recording: 1945
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