Karajan’s 1955 Die Fledermaus

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Oddly enough, my previous post referred to an opera (Massenet’s Cendrillon) where a female breeches role was given to a tenor and the same thing happens here, though not quite to such detrimental effect. Where Gedda’s Prince Charming sounds all wrong, Rudolf Christ’s languidly effete Orlovsky almost reconciles me to the change and this  is my only slight quibble about a superb, classic recording, which I happen to prefer to Karajan’s later effort for Decca.

Though recorded in London with the Philharmonia, cast and conductor bring an echt Viennese quality to the whole enterprise, the judicially edited dialogue delivered in sparkling fashion. You don’t really need to speak German to understand what’s going on.

Schwarzkopf is a superb Rosalinde, none better, singing her Czardas with appropriate dash and swagger, the voice gloriously rich and firm; Streich a delightfully pert and flirtatious Adele; Gedda a properly tenor Eisenstein, with a fine line in comedy, especially when impersonating Blind in the final scene; Kunz a genially scheming Falke. Excellent contributions also from Krebs as Alfred, Dönch as Frank and Majkut as Blind. This really is a fabulous cast and Legge’s superb production ensures that the recording sounds like a real performance.

Karajan’s conducting is perhaps on the swift side, but the whole performance fizzes and pops like the very best brut champagne that the operetta celebrates and is guaranteed to lift the spirits.

Susan Graham – French Operetta Arias

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With a title like “French Operetta Arias” you’d probably be expecting quite a bit of Offenbach and maybe some Lecocq, but what we get is a disc of largely forgotten music from between the two wars. Quite a bit of Messager and Hahn, but also a couple of tracks from the Cuban composer Moises Simons (both great fun), one by Maurice Yvain, probably best known for his song Mon homme, immortalised as My man by Fanny Brice and Barbra Streisand, and one by, of all people, Arthur Honneger, from his operette Les Aventures du roi Pausole. Annoyingly the track listing just gives the titles of the songs so you have to consult the lyrics to find out the composer and work the song is taken from. With so much rare material I’d have welcomed a little more background.

What we do get, however, is a collection of delicious bonbons, an extravagant melée of delights, all delectably performed by American mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, who has, like her compatriot Frederica Von Stade, made quite a speciality of French music. In fact I remember seeing Graham for the first time in a Covent Garden production of Massenet’s Chérubin. Here she captures to perfection the style of the period and is by turns sexy, playful and coy. At one point, due to the magic of overdubbing, she even trios with herself, on Hahn’s O mon bel inconnu from his operette of the same name, in which three women answer the same lonely-hearts and fall in love with the same man.

Undemanding music, perhaps, but pure joy and wonderfully performed by Graham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra uder Yves Abel.