Notes and Editorial Reviews
Lovely melodies, lovely production.
Paganini (1925) was the first of five lyrical and beautiful Lehár operettas made world-famous by the renowned Austrian tenor, Richard Tauber. They were:
Friederike (1928) and the revised
Das Land des Lächelns (1929).
This film version of
Paganini is a very creditable stab at a glittering operetta allowing us to appreciate a wider view of hunting tableaux, village fetes, casinos, bedchambers and glamorous ballroom scenes with dashing hussar uniforms and gorgeous empire line ball gowns. The colour film and sound recording, from 1973, are very
Paganini is concerned with an episode from the violinist’s colourful life when he was supposed to have met and stolen the heart of Napoleon’s sister, Princess Anna Elisa of Lucca. Paganini subsequently not only enjoyed Anna Elisa’s affections but became opera director and virtuoso violinist at the court in Lucca. Alas, always the devilish womaniser, Paganini’s eyes fall on opera singer, Bella Giretti. He loses his precious Stradivarius at the casino to the effete aristocrat Pimpinelli who also yearns after Bella Giretti. The stage is set for complications, ultimate loss and sadness.
Paganini’s luscious melodies include: ‘Girls were Made to Love and Kiss’. This is nicely executed by Antonio Theba as a rakish-looking Paganini though he is no Richard Tauber; his
passion and intensity is missing. ‘Your Sweet Rose-lips’ is heard from Theba in duet with honey-voiced Teresa Stratas as Princess Anna Lisa. Then come ‘Nobody Could Love You More’ and the rapturous solo ‘Love, You Heaven on Earth’. Mention must also be made of the charming duet for the comedian and soubrette (Pimpinelli and Bella) ‘For Once I Would Like to do Something Crazy’.
Lovely melodies, lovely production.
-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International
Well, she’s not a librarian, and it’s sure not Iowa, but he’s part womanizer, part charlatan, travels a lot, has a sidekick promoter—and there’s even a footbridge. For several reasons, then, Arthaus’ rerelease on DVD of Unitel’s 1973 movie of Franz Léhar’s operetta
might recall the familiar for those who know and even love Meredith Willson’s
. But if Harold Hill didn’t know a bass drum from a pipe organ, this Nicolò Paganini’s no “two-bit thimble rigger” and besides being a “bygod spellbinder,” shows over and over that he knows a flying staccato from a ricochet. In fact, the script, by Paul Knepler and Bela Jenbach, makes him just a bit too eager to share what he knows (while the real Paganini took what we might now call extreme measures to protect his trade secrets).
has him playing so loudly in an inn that the country folk can hear what he’s doing (so, of course, does the smitten Princess Anna Elisa, Napoleon’s sister). In actuality, there could have been many violinist-admirers like Carl Guhr or even Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst waiting in the yard outside with their pencils poised. But, in other ways,
spins a web of illusion skillfully, with Antonio Theba looking quite a bit like his subject, although less grotesque. Teresa Stratas, who looks perhaps just too Mediterranean for her role, has fewer opportunities to display the kind of fiery passion that she can conjure so convincingly, but she’s lilting in her musical role and as beguiling as usual in her histrionic one; she and Theba take ownership of the piece. With its many changes of scenes, the movie effects transitions that the operetta could never have made on stage. For example, in the famous song “Gern hab’ ich die Frau’n geküsst,” flashbacks in a frame recall progressively more salacious conquests as Paganini recalls them. And shots of Count Carcasona writing a warning of Paganini’s growing influence over the Princess cut back and forth with Paganini’s first violin solo for the court in Lucca. It all seems to work dramatically.
Paganini has been caricatured in three movies of which I’m aware. The first,
The Magic Bow
, based on Manuel Komroff’s novel, seems laughable when Yehudi Menuhin isn’t dubbing for Stewart Granger. There’s
(with violin music played by Salvatore Accardo), which lurches from pornography to grotesquerie. And then, easily the best of them, there’s
, which, with its sumptuous score (warmly chromatic and lushly orchestrated, if not so tightly packed with Lehár’s most winning melody), witty dialog, and amusing portrayal of court machinations, makes an elegantly sophisticated—and only mildly naughty—entertainment. Antonio Theba looks very well prepared in the violin solos, several of which he appears to be playing with no possibility of someone hiding above, behind, or beside him—he had to learn those movements precisely and well, and he did. The violin solos themselves capture through a gel lens, as they must necessarily in such a confection, enough
Paganinian magic to make his near cult status seem plausible. So if Theba doesn’t look so bizarre as Klaus Kinski (who also played
, it will be remembered), he’s more credible in the role.
Those who wish only to listen should be able to locate the 1956 recording with Werner Schmidt-Boelcke conducting the Munich Radio Orchestra, with Rudolf Schock as Paganini, Kurt Brosskürth as Bartucci, Anny Schlemm as Anna Elisa, Friedel Blasius as Bella Giretti, and Willy Hofman as Pimpinelli on a CD remastering on Membran 232997, with violin solos from Paganini’s works, dialog seemingly spoken directly into the microphones, and plenty of period flavor. But the visual element … I’ve watched so many movies about and featuring the playing of violinists—
Ladies in Lavender
(Toscha Seidel and Louis Kaufman),
The Red Violin
(Joshua Bell again), and
They Shall Have Music
, casting Jascha Heifetz playing himself, probably shouldn’t be enumerated in this list—that any such enterprise now has me rubbing my forehead in embarrassment. Nobody gets it right. But Lehár, Knepler, and Jenbach, as well as Rolf and Alexandra Becker, who adapted the operetta for television, and Eugen York, who directed it, certainly did (would Lehár’s musically sophisticated audiences have brooked
The Magic Bow
or any of the others?). You never need to fear the onset of discomfort for lapses or feel you might suddenly have to leave the room in embarrassment, because, beyond obvious historical inaccuracies (and a sudden sour ending) that make the plot logical and digestible—and, of course, Lehár’s version of Paganinian dazzlement—there aren’t any uncomfortable moments.
The movie is in standard format and PCM stereo, with no regional coding, and German, English, and French subtitles. It’s
The Music Man
adapted for musically informed audiences, and everybody who loves the violin should be delighted to have it available. Returning to our starting point, all of us, like the ladies of River City, Iowa, should be “agog.” Urgently recommended.
FANFARE: Robert Maxham
LEHAR, F.: Paganini [Operetta] (Studio Production, 1973) (NTSC)
Operetta Film, 1973
Paganini – Antonio Theba
Princess Anna Elisa – Teresa Stratas
Prince Felice – Johannes Heesters
Bella Giretti – Dagmar Koller
Pimpinelli – Peter Kraus
Count Carcasona – Fritz Tillmann
Count Hedouville – Wolfgang Luckschy
Bartucci – Klaus Havenstein
Graunke Symphony Orchestra
Wolfgang Ebert, conductor
Eugen York, television director
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 Colour
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French
Running time: 107 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
Works on This Recording
Paganini by Franz Lehár
Fritz Tillmann (Voice),
Peter Kraus (Tenor),
Dagmar Koller (Soprano),
Johannes Heesters (Tenor),
Teresa Stratas (Soprano),
Antonio Theba (Tenor),
Wolfgang Luckschy (Voice),
Klaus Havenstein (Voice)
Graunke Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1925; Vienna, Austria
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