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Lehár: Die Lustige Witwe / Skovhus, Schnitzer, Honeck

Lehar / Skovhus / Schnitzer / Emmerlich / Skd
Release Date: 07/29/2008 
Label:  Euroarts   Catalog #: 2056818  
Composer:  Franz Lehár
Performer:  Gunter EmmerlichBo SkovhusPetra Maria SchnitzerLydia Teuscher
Conductor:  Manfred Honeck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Staatskapelle
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

LEHÁR Die lustige Witwe Manfred Honeck, cond; Petra-Maria Schnitzer ( Hanna ); Lydia Teuscher ( Valencienne ); Bo Skovhus ( Danilo ); Oliver Ringelhahn ( Camille ); Gunther Emmerlich ( Baron Mirko Zeta ); Ahmad Mesgarha ( Njegus ); Read more Staatskapelle Dresden; Dresden St Op Ch MEDICI ARTS 2056818 (DVD: 145:00) Live: Dresden 12/2007

We seem to be swimming in Merry Widow s. Within the past two years, there have been the near definitive, classic staging from Zurich (featuring Rodney Gilfrey, Dagmar Schellenberger, and the stunning tenor Piotr Becza?a) and its cousin, by the same director, realized by the summer ensemble troupe from the Mörbisch Lake Festival. For first-time viewers, I would recommend the Zurich staging, with its stunning costumes and first-rank singing, and for most, I would guess, one Merry Widow is enough. Oddly, though, this entertaining new production by Jérôme Savary, from Dresden in 2007, has many things to recommend it, including a marginally more faithful rendering of the original musical text, even if none of the principal roles can measure up vocally to the Zurich cast.

The problem of this staging, as critics in several other publications have already commented, is that it takes many random liberties in the visual realization and with the dialogue. For instance, the spoken role of Njegus (played by Ahmad Mesgarha as a confusing cross between an earnest Moroccan and Jerry Lewis) erupts into sudden, unprompted bits of singing, including, at one point, “White Christmas.” The staging itself also revels in striking yet confusingly pointless devices, played for laughs. In the first act, a gigantic feminine hand lies languidly across the stage, serving as a convenient bench or sofa, but prompting the ham-fisted question, “Is Danilo in the palm of some woman’s hand?” During the first act, a portrait of the Baron hangs on a post, with eyes that flash lights whenever it is referred to directly. Too many of the scenes are played so hard for cheap laughs that they fall flat. The playfully misogynist fight song “Das Studium der Weiber” plays as a scene from Springtime for Hitler , with the men all costumed as banana-republic dictators, and Njegus appearing in a tutu and tights. Inappropriate and strained, to be sure. Likewise, a dialogue scene in Maxim’s at the opening of the third act is simply too surreal for words. Njegus and the Baron sit on a couch shaped like a puffy set of lips, ringing a bell as, one by one, young can-can dancers climb up through the cushions.

In other respects, though, the production’s chief sin seems to be that it has taken the setting of the story seriously. The main romantic tension of the operetta revolves around the bankruptcy of a small Balkan country, Pontevedro—a veiled jab at Montenegro—and the use of an arranged marriage to a rich widow as a way out of the impasse. The resistance of the lead romantic pair to being manipulated for crass political gain rather than through true love offers the primary conflict of the drama. The country’s leaders are here, fairly honestly, represented as members of a petty military junta (though the Baron is given too much in the way of Hitlerian overtones), and Hanna Glawari, the rich heiress, is portrayed as an American (her American-accented German R s and vowels uncannily rendered by Austrian soprano Petra-Maria Schnitzer).

However, it is clear that the director has worked out each scene, sometimes fussily so, as the use of marionettes (by Njegus) during the “zwei Königskinder” sequence at the end of act II shows. On the other hand, the act III scene in Maxim’s is more fully realized than one usually sees in staged productions. Ultimately, though, the film will rise or sink as a reflection of the strengths of its performances.

The Baron Mirko Zeta is played here by Gunther Emmerlich, who until 1992 pursued an active career as an operatic singer, but, as the casual opera DVD fan may be unaware, has since pursued a successful career as a music-theater star—as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof and in the Man of La Mancha —as well as a television host who has appeared frequently on the mawkish Lawrence Welk cousin, Musikantenstadl . Much of his shtick makes more sense in this context, as does the raw, worn quality of his bass voice.

In the secondary romantic pair of Camille and Valencienne, Oliver Ringelhahn displays a clear and powerful voice, though unsteady at times and tending to crack. Lydia Teuscher’s Valencienne is always alive, responsive, and flirtatious; she would make an admirable Hanna, were her voice more fully developed.

For my taste, Petra-Maria Schnitzer’s “Viljalied” suffers from overabundant rubato (and the fact that the staging over-politicizes it, inappropriately, as an example of social commentary), but her voice rises to the occasion elsewhere. Bo Skovhus is a marvel, at ease in the role of the diffident playboy Danilo, with the same lack of affectation that made his Count of Luxembourg so winning. His delivery of spoken dialogue invests it with a naturalness and pointedness beyond what Gilfry brings to it in Zurich, and his voice remains impressively controlled and colored to the dramatic situation. Skovhus’s and Schnitzer’s rendition of “Lippen schweigen” (the famous waltz), is understated, seductive, and memorable.

On balance, then, I would recommend this version warmly, especially for people who wish to catch a new angle on an old favorite, less warmly for people coming to the work for the first time, for whom there are better alternatives.

FANFARE: Christopher Williams
SOUND FORMATS: DD 2.1, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
SUBTITLES: German, English, French
RUN TIME: 145 mins Read less

Works on This Recording

Die lustige Witwe by Franz Lehár
Performer:  Gunter Emmerlich (Bass), Bo Skovhus (Baritone), Petra Maria Schnitzer (Soprano),
Lydia Teuscher (Soprano)
Conductor:  Manfred Honeck
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Staatskapelle
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1905; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 12/2007 
Venue:  Semperoper Dresden 

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