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Lehár: Die Lustige Witwe / Welser-Möst, Schellenberger, et al

Lehár / Schellenberger / Gilfry / Welser-möst
Release Date: 07/19/2005 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 100451  
Composer:  Franz Lehár
Performer:  Piotr BeczalaDagmar SchellenbergerRodney Gilfry
Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera ChorusZurich Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Director: Helmuth Lohner
Recording Date: 2004
Place of recording: From the Zurich Opera House
Running Time: 125 min
Picture Format: 16:9
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Region Code: 0
Release Date: 2005
Language: German
Menu Languages: German, French, English, Japanese, Spanish
Subtitle Languages: German, French, English, Japanese, Spanish

Helmut Lohner really excels in presenting this amusing love story on stage. The gorgeous set (mainly designed in red and gold), the elegant costumes (with an accomplished mix of traditional costumes and Parisian evening attire, which perfectly reflects the mix in Lehár’s composition), and the
Read more presentation of the characters (with a shrewd eye-twinkling) add up to a formidable whole. Franz Welser-Möst’s interpretation of Lehár’s music also fits in naturally.



LEHÁR Die lustige Witwe ? Franz Welser-Möst, cond; Dagmar Schellenberger ( Hanna Glawari ); Rodney Gilfrey ( Danilo ); Rudolf Hartmann ( Baron Mirko Zeta ); Ute Gfrerer ( Valencienne ); Piotr Beczala ( Camille de Rosillon ); Herbert Prikopa ( Njegus ); Zurich Op O & Ch; Rolf Langenfass, dir ? ARTHAUS 100 451 (DVD: 125:00)

Ideally cast from soup to nuts, this Zurich production bristles with the vitality that this most vital of early 20th-century theater gems so richly deserves. Rolf Langenfass takes a mostly traditional approach to the direction, in a well-worn staging that was also used at the 2005 Mörbisch Lake Festival (a production that has also found its way to DVD, in a recording only sporadically distributed in North America). There are no visual surprises. It is all glitz and glamour, tuxedos and evening gowns, but as the entire action unfolds at formal parties bubbling over with pro secco , this is much to be expected. Nor does Langenfass even attempt to minimize any attendant clichés. What sets this production apart is the strong-voiced casting of even the smallest roles, and smoothly modulated acting, vaulting this performance into classic status, with moment after moment to savor for any fan of Viennese popular theater.

The glistening voice and tight vibrato of Ute Gfrerer (who looks a bit like a smaller version of Karita Mattila) lends a warm sparkle to the soubrette role of Valencienne. From her famous opening aria (?Ich bin eine anständ?ge Frau?), she establishes a pertly commanding presence, warm and flirting, though her first entrance is marred by a raft of out-of-tune winds. She is matched with clear-voiced tenor Piotr Beczala, who delivers the post-Tristanesque hot-house love song, ?Sieh dort die kleinen Pavillon,? with a floating haute-contre voice.

Of course, any Merry Widow is nothing without riveting performances by the two romantic leads, and neither Dagmar Schellenberger?s Hanna nor Rodney Gilfrey?s Danilo disappoints. Both are skilled stage actors with voices to match. Schellenberger?s upper range does spread shrilly at full volume, but this problem is mostly encountered in her first appearance. Her ?Vilja-Lied? and her many duets with Gilfry display a creamy midrange and deft sense of phrasing, in addition to a plummy vibrato that suits her larger-than-life diva-esque portrayal and a lilting seduction when she adopts a lighter, controlled tone. Gilfrey oozes a controlled yet magnetic masculinity throughout, even at his first appearance, when he appears obviously drunk and hung-over, draping a handkerchief languidly over his face. By numerous gestures and acting details one is reminded of some of Gilfrey?s other performances captured on video?Stanley Kowalski in Previn?s Streetcar or Don Giovanni ?and is struck by how much the comparatively harmless playboy Danilo benefits in his characterization from association with the true bad-boys of sexual magnetism. His scenes with Schellenberger radiate a tension and chemistry not often encountered in live operatic stagings. Vocally, he proves a master of characterization, his alcohol-inflected threat to ?go back to Maxim?s,? for instance, both bitter and despondent.

Another particular joy of this performance is the appearance of Herbert Prikopa, a beloved comic actor from Viennese stage and television, as the major domo Njegus, spouting quaint and droll observations about society in his trademark thick accent. Prikopa?s Nekrotsar was one of the highlights of the German-language recording of Ligeti?s opera Le grande macabre (Wergo WER170), and here he provides enough improvised entertainment to justify watching the DVD just for its sake. Often heavily cut, the role of Njegus here links strongly to the trademark Austrian theatrical tradition of folksy social commentary that steps out of the action to address the audience.

On balance, the direction does not intrude itself, instead allowing the principals to interact as naturally as possible. There is a bit too much squealing by the can-can girls in the Maxim dance sequence. And Langenfass succumbs to a bit of post-feminist embarrassment at the rampant sexism of the libretto by handing a reprise of the giddy misogynist ?Weiber-Marsch? to the women of the cast as a ?Männer-Marsch? poking fun at the foibles and unpleasant behavior of their male counterparts. The problem is that the ?pack mentality? shown by Lustige Witwe ?s men is not echoed by the women, who are cast in general as much more full-blooded individuals. The March?a clear forerunner of college fight songs and Rodgers and Hammerstein song numbers like ?There Is Nothing like a Dame??is a pointed satire of childish male obsession with the objectified physical attributes of women. Turning the tables doesn?t really work, the reprise falls flat, and the results?in that one instance?are tedious.

Such quibbles aside though, this production is self-recommending, more continuously engrossing than one would expect from such a traditionally conceived production of an operetta staple. Franz Welser-Möst once again proves himself adept at the phrasing subtleties of Austrian light music, and his Zurich orchestra plays resplendently.

FANFARE: Christopher Williams
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Works on This Recording

Die lustige Witwe by Franz Lehár
Performer:  Piotr Beczala (Tenor), Dagmar Schellenberger (Soprano), Rodney Gilfry (Baritone)
Conductor:  Franz Welser-Möst
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera Chorus,  Zurich Opera Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1905; Vienna, Austria 

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