Franz Lehar. Zigeunerliebe. DVD. Heinz Wallberg/Munchner Rund-funkorchester. Directed by Vaclav Kaslik. With Janet Perry, Ion Buzea, Adolf Dallapozza. [Germany]: Arthaus, 2012, 1974. 101599. $29.99.
Emmerich Kalman. Die Zirkusprinzessin. DVD. Werner Schmidt-Boelcke / Symphonie-Orchester Graunke. Directed by Manfred A. Kohler. With Ingeborg Hallstein, Rudolf Schock, Isy Oren. [Germany]: Arthaus, 2012, 1969. 101596. $29.99.
The theater historian Marion Linhardt, in the introduction to the source collection Warum es der Operette so schlecht geht, described modern operetta performance practice as pulled between two extremes: on the one hand nostalgia trips For elderly fans and on the other reinvented works for new audiences (special issue of. Mash und Kothurn 45 no. 1-2 [20011: If. She advocates fora performance practice that would modernize the genre's titillating excitememt while also maintaining a historical consciousness. As popular culture, operetta cannot be performed in a historically literal vacuum, and the balance between textual fidelity and current appeal can be hard to perfect. It should come as no surprise that yesterday's fashionably updated operetta look outmoded and campy today.
Such is the case here. These productions-Leo Fall's Die Dollarprinzessin, Franz Lehar's Zigeunerliebe and Emmerich Kalman's Die Zirkusprinzessin--were filmed for West German television in the 1960s and 70s. They were created, like the original works, for a wide public. Their audiences grew up with earh, recordings and broadcasts of these now-forgotten works, and the films at-tempt to link childhood memories of Richard Tauber with the then-current aesthetic of polyester and lounge music. The adaptations are free: scores are sliced and diced and often drastically shortened, librettos undergo major changes. The acting tends towards the oversized and stiff. But these are also each the only videos available of each respective operettas. Their dated excesses are enough to make any scholar long for Werktreue, but when taken on their own terms they have a certain charm.
The most straightforward is Die Zirkusprinzessin, filmed in 1969, whose score and libretto survive more or less intact from the 1926 Viennese original. The plot is classic late Silver Age operetta (with a libretto by the Alfred Grin-maid/Julius Brammer team), a drama of two couples separated by social difference in an exotic setting. A renegade Russian arisocrat enjoys an incognito career as a Moscow circus daredevil named Mr. X, but his double life threatens his love for the beautiful, rich widow Fedora. In he last act, the action moves to Vienna, where it is revealed that sidekick Toni, proclaimed to be the Austrian "archduke's son" is actually the son of the proprietor of a hotel called The Archduke. (While the empire was gone. its ghosts remained, though the setting is in tact pre-Russian Revolution.) The score is less memorable than Kalman's more popular Csardasfurstin and Grafin Mariza, but still catchy. The tenor number "Zwei Marchenaugen" is probably the only song that will be familiar to casual operetta fans.
The incorporation of circus acts and large-scale revue-style production numbers is typical of 1926, when operetta writers decided if they couldn't beat their competitors they could at least imitate them. Such spectacle was doubtlessly impressive onstage (as the premiere's reviews attest), but it's less compelling on this small screen, particularly due to the clumsy use of stunt doubles. The cast is talented but disappointing. Rudolf Schock was the leading operetta matinee idol of the postwar era, but at this late point in his career his voice sounds rather dry and worn out, nor does he possess much screen presence as the mysterious Mr. X. Ingeborg Hallstein as Fedora similarly lacks charisma, but sings well. As can often happen in these operettas, the second couple of Peter Karner, as Toni, and Isy Oren as Mabel almost steal the show with their broad material and energetic dance numbers.
While Die Zirkusprinzessin runs around 120 minutes, the other two operemmas are cut down to under 90 minutes each and feature only fragments of the original scores, with many numbers cut entirely. The direst is Die Dollarnprinzessin (1971), a truly delightful operetta from 1907 about penniless European aristocrats working for a New York millionaire. Its bouncy, English-influenced score is rendered in schlocky cruise ship-style arrangements bearing little resemblance to the original, and the lyrics are inexplicably almost entirely new (one particularly misses the goofy "Olga from the Volga"). The cast is considerably more adept than that of bit, Zirkusprinzessin, with Gabriele Jacoby and Gerhart Lippert both charming as the titular American millionaire's daughter and the aristocrat who loves her, but in this connext their efforts go to little effect. Die Dollarprinzessin's paeans to modern technology like the typewriter and automobile were fresher in 1907.
The final DVD under consideration here, Zigrunerliebe (filmed in 1974), gives us only a small portion of Franz Lehar's extravagantly exotic score. Written in 1909, it prefigured Leluar's later This Land des Lachelns and Paganini, featuring lush orchestration, long sung-through sections and a melancholy ending. (Indeed, Lehar revived a revised Zigeunerliebe in 1930--notably adding "Hor' ich Zymbalklange," a czardas that is now the operetta's most popular number.) The plot tells of a simple country girl living in the border region between Romania and Hungary who seduced by a wild gypsy (wild gypsies being the only kind of Romany to appear in operetta). After a long dream interlude imaging life with him, she reconciles herself with reality and marries her sweet but dull fiance. While the bittersweet ending is unusual (recalling Oscar Straus's fun Walzertraum of 1907), the central focus on negotiation between fantasy and reality are typical of the genre, in which the music's expressive power functions as a relief valve for Zorika's outsized, socially unacceptable passion. Its a shame that the operetta's opening, a musical portrait of a mountain storm featuring Brunnhilde-like battle cries from Zorika, is cut from this video. (The entire score can be heard on an excellent recent CPO recording.)
But the score that does survive in this film is heard in is the most distinguished musical performance of the three. The Munchener Rundfunkorchester is joined by an opera-experienced cast including Janet Perry as Zorika and Ion Buzea as her would-be gypsy love, Joszi, backed up by Adolf Dallapozza as Jonel. But the close acoustic of the recording is poorly lip-synced, and ends up strangely at odds with the impressive landscapes on display (the mountains are rather obviously the Bavarian Alps). The plot's depiction of "gypsies" as a methodical group of fortunetellers and thieves would be hard to produce at a theater today (though the work was recently revived at the Lehar Festival in Bad Ischl, Austria), and the plot tends towards convolution (particularly compressed into such a short running time), but the performers are engaging and the outdoor settings less obviously dated than the other productions.
As documents of their operetta's texts, only Die Zirkusprinzessin is satisfying. But would a realization closer to the stage works of 1906, 1910, or 1926 necessarily be more dramatically rewarding for a present-day audience? And do we even understand what that original sensibility was? One can perhaps assume that the television producers were giving their audiences what they wanted, the duty of any conscientious pop culture producer. Some aesthetic criteria are lacking, but this is not a genre that benefits from excessive literalism. What would he more welcome would be a staging fit for an audience of the 2010s, but few of the theaters currently producing compelling operetta, such as the Staatsoperette Dresden and the Budapest Operetta Theater, seem to be recording them on video (two admirable filmed productions from recent years are Die bustige Witwe frothe Opernhaus Zurich, available on Arthaus Musik (2005.) and Die Herzogin von Chicago from the Volksoper Wien, Capriccio (2005)). For now, operetta fans must satisfy themselves with what they can get.
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|Title Annotation:||'Leo Fall: Die Dollarprinzessin', 'Franz Lehar: Zigeunerliebe' and 'Emmerich Kalman: Die Zirkusprinzessin'|
|Article Type:||Video recording review|
|Date:||Feb 22, 2013|
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