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ClassicsOnline Home » BEST OF OPERETTA, Vol. 3
The Best of Operetta Vol. 3
Johann Strauss followed his father's example in establishing his own dance-orchestras, in spite of the latter's express wishes. By 1871, the date of his first operetta, the younger Strauss was firmly established as the Waltz King of Vienna. Hampered by libretti of indifferent quality, he scored significant and lasting success, above all, with the operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat), with a libretto by Richard Genee apparently based on Carl Haffner's version of a French original, Meilhac and Halevy's Le reveillon. Die Fledermaus was first performed at the Vienna Theater an der Wienon 5th April 1874. The plot concerns Rosalinde, wife of Eisenstein, who, in her husband's absence, has a lover, her singing teacher Alfred. Eisenstein himself is to be imprisoned and is due to report to the prison on the evening on which the action starts. He is, however, induced by his friend Falke to accompany him to a party at the house of Prince Orlofsky. Adele, Rosalinde's maid, has pleaded the excuse of a sick aunt to enable her to attend the same party together with her sister and disguised as an actress. Rosalinde's intended evening with Alfred is interrupted by the prison governor Frank, who comes to take Eisenstein to gaol and now, presuming Alfred to be her husband, takes him instead. At Prince Orlofsky's Eisenstein is introduced as the Marquis Renard and Frank too appears, under the name of Chevalier Chagrin. Rosalinde attends the party disguised as a Hungarian countess. Falke, it seems, has had an ulterior motive in persuading Eisenstein to accompany him. He means to settle scores with him over an incident in which he was left, after a fancy-dress ball, to make his way home dressed as a bat. Falke plans the bat's revenge. The party at Prince Orlofsky's brings a series of misunderstandings that are only finally resolved in the third act, which takes place at the prison. Here disguises are cast aside and the identity of Alfred is revealed, through further subterfuge from Eisenstein, now posing as the lawyer Dr Blind, but all ends in eventual reconciliation and happiness, with any misunderstandings now attributed to King Champagne.
The Overture to Die Fledermaus  sets the mood of the piece, with the waltz prevailing in a medley of themes. In Klänge der Heimat  (Sounds of Home) Rosalinde, in her disguise as a Hungarian countess, sings her famous csárdás to entertain Prince Orlofsky's guests. Trinke, Liebchen! Trinke schnell!  (Drink, my dear! Drink quickly!) is a duet for Rosalinde and her lover, Alfred, now in Eisenstein's house, wearing the latter's smoking-cap and dressing-gown. It is followed by the appearance of Frank, ready to arrest the master of the house. Mein Herr Marquis  is Adele's so-called laughing song, as she teases the disguised Eisenstein, still pretending to be the actress Olga, although she is wearing one of Rosalinde's dresses to attend Prince Orlofsky's reception. Spiel'ichdie Unschuld vom Lande  (I play the country innocent) is sung by Adele in the third act, when she reveals her identity and her theatrical ambitions to Frank, whose influence she has hoped to engage. Here she gives an account of the different parts she can play.
Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice) was a much less successful venture. Its librettists Zell (Camillo Walzel) and Genée again took a French original, Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré's Château Trompette, and the work was first staged in 1883 in Berlin, to avoid collaboration with the Theater an der Wien, where the director, Franz Steiner, had become the lover of Strauss's second wife, Lili. In Berlin the operetta was a fiasco, but when it was performed in Vienna it fared better, surviving on its music rather than its text and plot and on the comic abilities of the actor-singer Girardi. The famous Lagunenwalzer  (Lagoon Waltz) was rewritten for Vienna, where it was sung by Caramello, barber to the Duke of Urbino, who plays an important part in the intrigue.
By the 1890s Strauss was an old man, his theatrical genius, at least, flagging. It was in this decade, the last of his life, that the lawyer and government official Carl Zeller made his own contribution to Viennese operetta, most notably in Der Vogelhändler (The Bird-Catcher), staged first in 1891. From this comes Wie mein Ahn'l zwanzig Jahr!  (Twenty like my father!), one of the best known songs in the most popular of Zeller's operettas, the last of which, Der Kellermeister, remained unfinished at his death in 1898.
Viennese operetta was revived and continued after the death of Strauss in 1899 by Franz Lehár, son of a Hungarian bandmaster, whose profession he himself followed at first. He won significant success in Vienna in 1905 with his most famous work for the stage, Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow). Paganini, based on supposed amorous episodes in the life of the famous violinist, has a libretto by Paul Kepler and Béla Jenbach and was first staged at the Johann Strauss-Theater in Vienna in 1925. In Lucca the Princess Maria Anna Elisa is infatuated by Paganini but is compelled to concur in his expulsion, to avoid further scandal. In Liebe, du Himmel auf Erden  (Love, heaven on earth) she reacts to their enforced parting.
Imre Kálmán, a fellow student and compatriot of Bartók and Kodály, embarked first on a career as a music critic and composer of more serious music. From this he was deflected by the success of his first operetta, Tatárjárás (The Gay Hussars) in 1908. He settled in Vienna, moving to Paris in 1939 and thence to America. His operetta Gráfin Mariza (Countess Mariza) was first staged in Vienna in 1924. Auftrittslied Mariza  (Maritsa's Entrance Song) introduces the Countess of the title, who has in her employment the impoverished nobleman Tassilo and tries to ward off her suitors by pretending engagement to a certain Baron Koloman Zsupán, a fictitious character whose identity is then claimed by a real Zsupán. Various intrigues end happily for Mariza and Tassilo. Komm Zigány  (Come, gypsy) is sung by Tassilo at the party given by the Countess to celebrate her supposed betrothal, while in Grüß mir die süßen  (Greet for me the sweet ladies) he muses on the change of fortune that has forced him to sell his property to settle his father's debts.
The Austrian composer Robert Stolz was a contemporary of Kálmán, a pupil of Robert Fuchs in Vienna and Humperdinck in Berlin. He was a prolific composer for the theatre and cinema, and wrote some two thousand songs, while continuing a career as a conductor. Ich liebe dich  (I love you) is taken from Zauber der Bohème (Magician from Bohemia), Zwei Herzen in Dreivierteltakt  (Two hearts in three-four time), written in 1930, was used for both theatre and film, while Du sollst der Kaiser meiner Seele sein  (You shall be the emperor of my soul) is taken from the operetta Der Favorit, mounted in Berlin in 1916. Adieu, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier  (Adieu, my little guards officer) is characteristic of Stolz's somewhat sentimental songs of parting.
The coloratura soprano Ingrid Kertesi was born in Budapest and at first studied the cello. She had her training as a singer at the Liszt Academy and in Bayreuth, joining the Hungarian State Opera in 1986. Her career later took her to Vienna, where she sang the role of Olympia in Les Contes de Hoffinann, and to the Komische Oper in Berlin, where she sang Blonde in a production by Harry Kupfer of Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. 1992 brought the Hungarian Juventus Prize for performances as Gilda in Rigoletto, Olympia, Juliette in Gounod's Romeo et Juliette, Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and other roles. Her international career has taken her to Israel, France, Switzerland and Italy, in addition to appearances in Japan.
Zsuzsa Csonka completed her conservatory studies as a violinist, later turning her attention to singing both at the Budapest Academy and in Vienna, where her teachers included Hans Hotter and Alexander Kollo. She has been a member of the Hungarian State Opera since 1984, singing roles that have included the Queen of the Night, Musetta, Oscar, Rosina, Norma, Adina, Gilda and Olympia, her coloratura roles leading to lyrical roles in opera and operetta. Her successful career has taken her, as a guest performer, to Switzerland, Italy, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the United States of America and Canada.
Born into a musical family in the Hungarian town of Szentes, the tenor János Berkes completed his studies at the Budapest Liszt Academy in 1971, making his professional operatic debut as Lensky in Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. Triumph in 1976 in the Treviso Toti dal Monte Competition was followed, in 1979, by the special prize of the International Jury in the Belgian Television Competition for his performance in opera and bel canto. A three-year engagement in Vienna brought appearances throughout the world, in the Americas, the Far East, Australia and the major countries of Europe. He has coupled leading tenor operatic roles with performance in Viennese operetta, including Die Zirkusprinzessin, Gräfin Mariza, Der Zigeunerbaron and Die Csárdás Fürstin. János Berkes is also known for his concert appearances in oratorio repertoire.
Hungarian Operetta Orchestra
The Hungarian Operetta Orchestra (North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra Miskolc) was founded in 1963. This dynamically developing concert orchestra plays a determining role in Hungarian music life, with a repertoire ranging from baroque to contemporary works. The orchestra has 84 members and gives around ninety concerts a year, appearing in the greatest concert halls around the world, working frequently under conductors of great distinction.
Lászlo Kovács studied at the Budapest Liszt Academy as a trombonist and as a conductor, making his debut in the latter capacity at the Hungarian State Opera at the age of twenty-one. After serving as an assistant to conductors such as János Ferencsik, Lamberto Gardelli, Giuseppe Patane and Yuri Simonow, he built an international career and since 1984 has been General Music Director of the North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra (Miskolc). In 1989 he was awarded the Ferenc Liszt Prize and in 1993 the Bartók Prize and since 1979 has been on the teaching staff of the Liszt Academy.
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BEST OF OPERETTA, Vol. 3