Background

Everything I put up on Wikipedia gets wiped so I am putting it all up here in my own way -- mostly stuff that Wikipedia does not have in English. Mainly information about operetta but some other topics as well

Thursday, July 30, 2015



Fledermaus at Moerbisch


I obtained the DVD of the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Fledermaus some time back and, though it was generally very good, there were a few things I didn't like about it so I wanted to see the Moerbisch version, which, as it happens, was Harald Serafin's last production (in 2012), before handing over to Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin.

The casting

And I did like the Moerbisch version better. The role of "Adele" is a very important one in the show, arguably as important as "Rosalinde", so I was disappointed that the Covent Garden director cast a rather chunky-looking lady in the "Adele" role. She was just not a plausible romantic figure.  

Serafin put Austrian soprano Daniela Fally into the role and I thought she was marvellous in every way in it. She is slim, not really a great beauty, but she is certainly a great singer and actress.  When she opens her mouth wide and belts out those big soprano notes, it's Zauberfluss -- as Goethe might have said (Faust). She's a lovely lady, however you look at it.

And I am not alone in that opinion. Others have gushed over her in that role too.  I am rather lost for words after the encyclopedic praise heaped on her by others so I will just repeat one comment I particularly agreed with:  "Daniela Fally’s Adele is so charming and so brilliant that the leads seem forgettable by comparison".

And at the risk of being banal, it seems to me fitting that the home of operetta -- Austria -- should produce a brilliant operetta interpreter.  She is brilliantly expressive in an operetta role but would that be too much in other settings? Possibly

Harald Serafin seems to have put her in the role before anyone else of note so he really started the ball rolling there. The encomia I have mentioned were all later than 2012.

Fally in full voice, the "Prince" on the left and Daniel Serafin (the bat) on the right

Fally as Bardot?

Harald Serafin also put his son Daniel into a major role in the show -- as "The Bat".  But Daniel looked good and performed well so that was fine.  As a big, well-built man, I thought he fitted the dominant part of "The bat" particularly well. I like manly men in operetta. He will have done well for his career by his performance there.

I greatly dislike trouser roles and the lady chosen to play the prince at Covent garden earned the full measure of my dislike in that regard.  She was even a BALD woman (Yuk, yuk!).  At Moerbisch, however, Harald Serafin cast Ukrainian mezzo Zoryana Kushpler in the role and I didn't mind her at all.  Like a lot of people from the Slavic lands she has the rather broad face that is a legacy of the Mongol occupation so -- combined with a very severe hairstyle -- looked somewhat masculine. And, despite repeatedly declaring everything langweilig (boring) at the beginning of the show she in fact sang along and showed emotional involvement throughout most of the show.  She showed notable rapture over the czardas.  And she dominated the Duzen scene. She did well.  

The czardas scene:  The version by Kiri te Kanawa in the Covent Garden version of the show has been acclaimed as the definitive version of a czardas so how did the version in this show stack up?  How well did Viennese soprano Alexandra Reinprecht do by comparison?  I am inclined to agree that Kiri was slightly better but Reinprecht was still very good and moved around more while singing -- which added expression. Since the Csardas was originally a dance, Kiri's very static performance was quite old-fashioned

In my eccentric way, I also liked an Austrian soprano singing of her love for her Hungarian homeland.  Austria is a lot closer to Hungary (right next door) than New Zealand, where Kiri hails from.  And the association of Austria with Hungary is of course historic. 

Alexandra Reinprecht would have been in her mid-30s in 2012 (as with many sopranos, her actual DoB seems to be a State Secret) and I liked her womanly appearance in the role better than I liked the looks of Kiri te Kanawa.  For this show Serafin seems to have "borrowed" Reinprecht from the Wiener Staatsoper, where she had already played the role of Rosalinde -- so she had to be very good.

I am critical of a few things Harald Serafin did over the years  as Intendant at Moerbisch but I have no criticism of him as an actor and singer.  It is always a pleasure to see him appear in a show.  And at age 80 on this occasion he still had it all.  He adds an air of jollity and good humour to everything he does.  He of course gets to choose the role that suits him but he has great talent for what he does.  I noticed that he managed to sit and dance with Daniela Fally quite a lot.  A privilege of also being Intendant!

Harald Serafin with Fally and "Ida" in the jail scene

Young Serafin also spent a lot of time with "Ida" during the show.

I did not like "Alfred", the music teacher, much.  He sang well but he looked like a Mafioso to me.  He was in fact an Australian  -- Angus Wood.  So maybe that shows how much I know! Why he was wearing such vast boots is a question.  "Ugg boots" were an Australian invention so maybe that was it.  An amusing Austrian impression of Australia!

As the butt of most of the jokes, Herbert Lippert, as "Eisenstein" undoubtedly acted and sang well.  He acted very amusingly as the fake lawyer.  Reinprecht acted well in that bracket too.  She showed there how expressive she can be.

There were quite a lot of grisettes (can-can type dancers) in the show so there were a lot of lovely legs on display. As I am something of a leg-man, I liked that. My last (and I mean last) wife was 5'11" tall and a lady that tall has to have a lot of leg. She had lots else as well, of course.  In pre-emptive reply to the usual feminist challenge, I think I had pretty good legs myself in my day.  They were my only good bit!

At first, I thought that the duzen scene led by young Serafin was an interpolation.  Young people in the German lands do normally these days address one-another "per du" (informally) so it was perfectly contemporary to have Daniel Serafin encouraging that usage, but I could not imagine Strauss and his librettists even thinking of such a scene in 1874.  Millocker used such speech for comic effect in Bettelstudent (1882) but this show was praising it.  It seems however that I was wrong about it being an interpolation.  The Covent Garden version had the same scene -- totally unsubtitled!  That was a coward's way out of an admittedly difficult translation task.  More attempt to praise informality could surely have been attempted. As it was, that scene would have been pretty obscure to the English listeners.

Anyway, ending that scene with the Strauss "Donner und Blitz" polka certainly woke everybody up.  And the constant Strauss waltzes throughout the show were wonderful, of course.

Humour in the show

The whole show was of course a very good farce, but, aside from that, the funny bits were mostly in the second half of the show, particularly in the localizations. Stage shows are very often localized for the particular audience so the localizations this time were different from the Covent Garden offering.  The Covent Garden show even included a performance by "Sharl" Aznavour for some inscrutable reason.  Even Aznavour himself looked a bit embarrassed to be there on that occasion. 

The opening scene with the drunken prison guard was particularly rich with humorous localizations this time. It was one big comedy scene, in fact. There was mention of Lucas Auer, an Austrian racing driver, and of David Alaba, an Austrian-born black footballer.  

And the Finanzministerin (Maria Fekter) was mocked for using an English expression in her speech -- the word "shortly".  That usage became quite famous and even gets a mention in German Wikipedia.  It related to an EU financial crisis:  

Im Rahmen einer EU-Krisensitzung zur Schuldenkrise am 13. Juli 2011 meinte Fekter: „Die Zeit, die wir uns gegeben haben, ist shortly. Und auf Ihre Frage, was das heißt, sage ich Ihnen: shortly, without von delay“. Im Dezember 2011 wurde „shortly, without von delay“ zu Österreichs „Spruch des Jahres 2011“ gewählt". ("In December 2011 "shortly, without von delay" was chosen as Austria's Saying of the Year").  

That saying was actually repeated in the operetta. It seems to have been very funny to Austrians. With their own massive cultural and historical inheritance I suppose that any any deference to another culture seems absurd.

There were actually a lot of references to Austrian current affairs in the drunken scene and only a minority of them got a laugh from the audience.  I actually found some of them funnier than the audience did.  There were mocking references to "transparency", which Obama critics could relate to, and the tendency of witnesses at official enquiries to have very bad memories was familiar. That was in fact heavily satirized by the drunken jailer.  There were also critical references to political party funding so once again one has to say: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"

Another entertainment in the show was various mentions of Moebisch in the script. The Moerbisch mosquitoes were yet again complained of and pity was shown for Moerbisch singers.  There was even a silly rhyme of Moerbisch with "Dervish"

The drunker jailer also contributed to the self-referencing.  When "Alfred" sang an invitation for him to sing, he replied: "No.  I have a speaking role"

The scene of the two impostors pretending to speak French was not as well done this time.  The Covent Garden version was hilarious but this time the scene mainly seemed tedious to me.

Wrap-up

In comparing the Covent Garden and Moerbisch performances there was no contest. Both were brilliant entertainments for their respective audiences. Both the London producers and Harald Serafin had the whole world to draw on for the casting.  The difference is that Serafin knew well the rich cultural scene of his own German lands.  And he drew on that.  And in so doing he made NO mistakes. He avoided a grotesque bald woman as the Prince and he picked a brilliant young singer/actor as "Adele".  His long experience delivered the goods. 

I have given away my DVD of the Covent Garden show.  That bald woman really revolted me: She was repellent throughout -- whereas Serafin's "Prince" was actually quite warm for most of the show. The Covent Garden "Prince" was the worst bit of casting I have seen.  A great pity in an otherwise entertaining production. Even in the trouser role of Handel's Giulio Cesare, as presented in 2006 at Glyndebourne, the woman at least had hair!

Because I was comparing the Moerbisch show with the Covent Garden show rather a lot, I have focused on the casting at Moerbisch above but my general comments about the operetta from last March still stand as a response to this operetta in general.

The ending was rather jolly but for once did not feature reunited lovers.  The erring husband was however provisionally forgiven by his wife so that served as a happy ending.

I take an interest in who  gets the most applause when the actors parade at the end of a show and Harald Serafin got the big applause this time. He would by now be a beloved figure to regulars at Moerbisch so that was perfectly appropriate. For him to be still performing well at age 80 was a wonder.  A lifetime in operetta no doubt helped.

And Daniela Fally got a lot of applause too, second to Serafin --  richly deserved.  I am still smiling as I bring some of her scenes to mind. That was a good line when she claimed to have a "margarine", instead of a "migraine".  And her performance of her big aria "Mein Herr Marquis, ein Mann wie Sie" ("The Laughing Song") was triumphant, with a very satisfactory high note at the end.

There are some extensive excerpts of the show online here.  Rather low resolution, unfortunately.



Saturday, July 18, 2015


Simplicius


Composed, 1887.  Performed at Zurich Oper in 1999

I hesitated for some time before ordering this Singspiel.  I read the synopsis and was not impressed:  Too complicated and not set in an operetta-type setting.  But the music was by Strauss II so I ordered it.

And I disliked it from the beginning.  The surrealist staging was way outside my liking.  I guess some people find it amusing or interesting but I just found it tedious.  A NYC writer felt the same.  He wrote:

"David Pountney’s production is not attuned to the bulk of the work, which can hardly breathe under the weight of his heavy symbolism and the heavy, enormous sets"

I think Pountney is one of the many directors of stage performances these days who is trying to show how smart HE is rather than how good the work is.  Despicable and boring.  I paid to see the work of Strauss, not the work of Pountney. I will order nothing more if he is part of it

But I kept on watching, all the while keeping an eye on the track numbers.  I have often found that the initial tracks of an operetta DVD are very skippable so I was looking for a point in the show that seemed a good starting point for me.  And I did find one! Track 14, about half of the way through the show.  From that point on it became closer to a normal operetta, even having quite a few laughs.  And the customary two happy couples at the end, of course.  With a lot of cuts to the many slow-moving bits and a naturalistic setting, it could be quite a reasonable operetta.

And the plot was not really as complicated as it appeared to be.  The story is that a soldier killed his brother in a battle of the terrible "30 years" war that raged in Central and Western Europe during the 17th century.  He was so grief-stricken at what he had done that he put his eldest son into a monastery and retired with his little son into the forest to lead the life of a religious hermit.

But the little son eventually grew up and was taken back into society as an ingenue. Meanwhile it transpired that the father and son were of noble birth and were wanted for the purposes of marrying into another noble and rich family.  But nobody knew where the father was and nobody knew who the son was.  So a couple of other claimants emerged wanting to marry the rich bride.

They were discredited, however, and we eventually found out who the son was.  And that simplified everything so that, after a few complications, everybody got married to the spouse of their choice.  Quite a simple plot, basically, and quite in operetta style.

The involvement of Swedes in what was basically a German civil war may seem odd to some but is good history.  Der Schwed did indeed take part. Protestant King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden did  lead his troops South to help the German Protestants, having a considerable influence on the outcome. He could in fact be said to have saved Protestantism in Germany.

I watched the show three times but felt that there was nothing in it that would draw me back to it so I gave the DVD away:  No great arias, no great singing, not much in the way of jokes and repellent staging. It's just not jolly.  But Martina Jancova as Tilly is attractive and acted well, while Piotr Beczala is a classic love-stricken tenor. Some other operettas I have watched innumerable times.  When watching Wienerblut, for instance,  I start laughing long before the punchlines of the jokes arrive.

An excerpt from Simplicius  here -- with subtitles! Judge for yourself.  It's just bombast.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Der Graf von Luxemburg


This Singspiel was composed by Lehar in 1909 and was apparently set in his day.  The production I have is another cinematic version -- from 1972 -- with the late Erich Kunz as the big name -- he wielded a mean monocle!  The entire show is online here, but without subtitles.  It deserves more recognition than it usually seems to get IMHO

The story

The story is about a profligate aristocrat (played by the Austrian  baritone Eberhard Wächter) and the strange marriage arrangements he enters into to restore his finances.

And there is also of course a second string story -- about an impoverished painter and his marriage-seeking girlfriend

The painter's girlfriend, little Helga Papouschek, played well and scrubbed up well.  She has been described as a "vielseitige Schauspielerin und Sängerin".  I can see that.  She portrayed a number of moods convincingly.

And the best aria (IMHO) came from the "second string" story -- "Schauen Sie freundlichst mich an", where the artist and his nervous lover reassure one another.  They really made a very suitable couple.  It puzzles me why they  spoke per "Sie" (formal) rather than per "du" (informal), though. Something to do with tensions between them at that time, I guess.  On earlier occasions they do speak per "du"

There are quite a lot of jokes in the show but you have to be attuned to them.  I found the dropped-glove episode hilarious in its corniness, for instance. And it was an amusing touch when the unflappable Graf who had unwittingly disrespected his donor on being introduced to him simply replied Sehr angenehm ("pleased to meet you") on being apprised of his mistake.

Early in the show (around the 7 minute mark online) you can see quite a bit of an attractive barmaid with a well-filled blouse whom I thought might have been mentioned in the credits -- but she was not.  A barmaid dancing with a prince is a very low-probability event -- but this is operetta.  I love it.

And, as seems common in operetta, alcohol is something of a star.  Mostly it was skolling Schnapps in this case but we did get around to the champagne eventually. And the birdbath cut-glass champagne glasses they used in the end are just like the old-fashioned ones that I have.  I don't agree with the fashion for champagne flutes at all at all.  Very inelegant.

The plot is typical operetta absurdity, though notes accompanying  the DVD suggest that similar things did happen in real life  at the time.  And the ending was very much as one expects of operetta, with THREE happy couples getting married.  After having watched two operettas that violated that formula -- Paganini and Zarewitsch, it was a welcome return to form.  

In summary:  A great romance with a marvellously happy ending. I liked the way the baritone's lady mostly looked and sang over his shoulder after they had accepted one-another. She looked best in those later scenes in my undoubtedly wicked opinion. She looks better happy.  They certainly made a most convincing couple.  I would be moderately surprised if he did not get into her pants after hours.

The cast

Erich Kunz played Basil, the Polish Prince and delegate to the Austrian Reichsrat.  He of course does the part very convincingly, as indeed do all the singers.  The costumes were all well done -- with very big hats on the ladies at times and big and very luxurious-looking sable collars on the coats worn by the men.

Erich Kunz gets his girl

The leading soprano, the long-necked Lilian Sukis, of Lithuanian origins, is now an old lady in her mid-70s but had a  lily-like and languid attractiveness in this performance.  She was particularly associated with the Bavarian State Opera in her day.  She was both an excellent soprano and a beautiful woman.  Hard to  beat!

The leading man was the late Eberhard Wächter, an Austrian baritone of some distinction in his day, though he was new to me. That he became Intendant of the Wiener Staatsoper is a considerable recognition of his artistry.  I did like his looks -- almost hypermasculine, with a big heavy head and a strong jaw.  It's a characteristic I have seen in other big male parts in operettas.  Having such characteristics is clearly an advantage in getting good parts in operetta.  I think of Rodney Gilfry in my copy of Die Lustige Witwe and Rainhard Fendrich in my copy of Im weissen Roessl as other examples of that. And they all get the girl!  

So this was a show with a beautiful woman in the lead and a very  handsome man! Definitely easy on the eye.  That is a big plus in operetta, IMHO.

Wächter with Sukis

Wächter sang and acted very well, at any event. I am sad that he is deceased. He was a magnificent presence. He was undoubtedly the star of the show. He was somewhat more expressive than his lady, in my opinion, though she had a powerful line in rapt gazes. The later very romantic parts were especially well done.  They had convincing sincerity.  It was a love-at-first-sight story but since both members of the couple were good-looking, that has some plausibility.  His "come-to-me" look towards the end after his lady had unwittingly insulted him was quite brilliant.  It got him the girl too. So everyone ended up happy, in true operetta style.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A wonderful Austrian singing lady: Ute Gfrerer


Ute Gfrerer is one of my favorite operatic sopranos.  But despite having performed widely and often and for many years, there is no Wikipedia entry for her so I thought I might put a few notes together here that might fill a gap.  I should put this up on Wikipedia itself but anything I put up there gets deleted.  Wikipedia seems to be a subculture of its own with rules that I do not fit

Below is a picture of Gfrerer that shows something I particularly like --  her big smile.  

 

I have watched her in both the Zurich 2004 performance of Die Lustige Witwe and in the 1998 Moerbisch performance of Der Vogelhaendler -- very different roles but well sung and well acted in both cases.

She turned 50 this year, which means she was born in 1965.    She was born in Carinthia in Austria, daughter of an innkeeper, with three sisters, all of whom sang.  She now lives in Boston.  She updates her Facebook page fairly often.  See here.  It's mostly in English

Her musical history is extensively covered here.  Let me reproduce a marvellous vignette from that:

"In fact, singing is so integral to the Austrian social fabric, that a performer in Austria might find their audience joining in on their performances. Gfrerer had one such transcendent experience while recording one of her live concert performances in Austria, where she sang a traditional folk song from her countryside. "When I got to the second verse, the audience began humming along with me," recalls Gfrerer, "Then in the last verse, they all started singing in 4-part harmony, and it was so beautiful. It could only happen in Austria!"

Amazing.  Singing along is one thing but singing along in 4-part harmony is another. Austria is certainly a superpower where great music is concerned.

There is a very good 2012 interview with her here that contains a lot of personal reflections -- In German.

In her early years she was particularly interested in operetta but in more recent times she has had a particular devotion to the music of the prolific Kurt Weill.  She is regarded as a leading interpreter of it, in fact. 

She also shows her versatility here with a 2013 rendition of Piaf's famous song La Vie en Rose.  I think she outdoes Piaf.  Others have also highly praised that rendition.  I liked the way the happy Austrian lady emerged from the soulful French singer as soon as the song was over.

Gfrerer seems to be a rather jolly lady in general, though her part in Lustige Witwe was almost wholly serious.  She was even asked, rather absurdly for her, to be Eine anstaendige Frau (a respectable wife). 

Her natural talent for gaiety did however surface in the dancing scenes of Lustige Witwe.  She was in any dancing going, whether the part really called for it or  not. She even led the cabaret dancers towards the end of the show. With big smiles and shrieks, her happiness throughout the dancing was a joy to watch.  She even got herself tipped upside down in that last segment! She is a naturally happy lady, I think.  And being born both beautiful and talented why should she not be happy? 

La vie en rose is a great love song.  Just for fun, I put up an English translation below:

With eyes which make mine lower,
A smile which is lost on his lips,
That's the unembellished portrait
Of the man to whom I belong.

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.

He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I know full well.

It's him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me "forever".

And as soon as I see him
So I feel in me
My heart which beats

May the nights on which we make love never end,
A great joy which takes its place
The trouble, the grief are removed
Content, content to die of it

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a very low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.

He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I recognise.

It's him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me forever.

And as soon as I see him
So do I feel in me
My heart which beats

So how does La Vie en Rose stack up as a love song against  Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum?  The words are very similar -- with one important exception: Piaf describes her love as deluded -- as seen through *rose* coloured glasses.  Whereas  the Austrian song is a very happy one: the singer describes her enraptured impressions of her man without reservation.  And the the music reflects that.  The French song has a great air of tragedy where the Austrian song has none of that.  Is love tragic to a French person and admirable to an Austrian?  That is the impression one gets.  And I am comparing two great singers of the songs concerned.  Martina Serafin's faultless voice and enraptured delivery of Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum in Vogelhaendler does every justice to that song. And she was singing it in her native German for a change, which would have helped at the margins 

And what does it tell us that the French song is infinitely better known than the Austrian one?  That tragedy is more interesting to most people?  I am inclined to think so.

And I suppose that it is rather churlish to mention that "tragic" love songs are a rather common phenomenon.  In popular culture "Both sides now"  by Joni Mitchell is a splendid example.  But in the classical music world the famous Goethe/Schubert song Gretchen am Spinnrade anticipated La vie en rose by a considerable time.

Operetta stars seem rather generally to keep pretty quiet about their personal lives but I see that Gfrerer had a daughter named Maxine in 2006.  She would have been 41 at the time.  A late run!  Pregnancies that late often indicate that the lady has had a lot of trouble finding a man who suits her.  She is such a happy lady that seems unlikely in her case.

Sunday, July 12, 2015



Der Vogelhaendler


Der Vogelhaendler is a bucolic comedy, by Carl Zeller, set in the 18th century and first performed in 1891. I recently watched the 1998 Moerbisch performance it, set in Austria. 

There have been many versions of the show done over the years, many of which differ quite considerably from one another.  There is a 1960s recording of the full show online here which has a very pretty version of the Rosen in Tyrol aria at the 46 minute mark.  There is a short excerpt from the version of the show that I have here

Der Vogelhaendler means the bird dealer, though the show had very little to do with birds. But it did have a lot to do with the difference between Tyrol and Kaernten (Carinthia) -- and if you don't know about that, the show does explain, sort of.  A lot of the differences do not survive translation into English, however.  There is actually a fair bit of levity about Tyrolean dialect. Tyroleans are presented as very old-fashioned.

Ute Gfrerer

I was greatly looking forward to seeing this show as the multi-talented, blue-eyed Austrian soprano Ute Gfrerer was in it.  And she did not disappoint at all, at all.  It was a great role for her and she filled it brilliantly.  She was in particularly good voice.  Her voice had a bell-like quality in the early scenes that suggested technical help to me.  Though it may just have been reverb from the adjacent sets.

There was no doubt about the power of her voice, however.  When at the end of the show she sang in unison with the very capable tenor (Sebastian Reinthaller), it was her voice that dominated.  A singing lady I know tells me that sopranos generally do that but I am not so sure.  Some wonderful soprano voices can be quite small -- Hallstein, for instance. 

And she has a sort of inbuilt levity and that shows even in the most unpromising scenes. I do fault Harald Serafin for not giving us a bit more of Gfrerer's famous big and happy smile, though.  We got some of that at the beginning and a bit of it at the end but it was not enough. 

A picture from her home page

I actually liked Gfrerer even better here than I liked her in the 2004 version of Lustige Witwe at Zurich.  She had a much more varied role here and did all the parts well.  And am I allowed to mention that she was 6 years younger here than at Zurich?  Very wicked of me, I am sure.  She would have been 23 in 1998 so was at her peak in some ways for this show -- with youthful good looks.  But, as we see above, she is gorgeous to this day.  Am I being maudlin?  Probably.

Martina Serafin

An odd thing about this show is that Harald Serafin did not cast himself in any of the parts, a rare thing.  But he gave his daughter, the attractive Martina Serafin, a leading part, so that may have been why.  Maybe she said:  "It's me or you".

Interestingly, her father is never mentioned in any online biographies of her.  I was able to confirm the relationship only  by struggling through an Italian site.  My Italian is pretty shaky so I don't do that often.  But she seems to have developed a lot of affiliations with Italy and there was an interview where she attributed that to her father.  Even then she referred to him only as "a certain well-known conductor" rather than naming him. 

Slightly odd to refer to him as a conductor.  Maybe Italian has no word that precisely translates the German Intendant.  Apparently Harald is half Italian by birth -- which surprised me -- and Martina relates strongly to that part of her ancestry.  I came across her Facebook page at one point and it was in Italian.  I imagine the surname was originally "Serafino", which means "seraph" in Italian.  I think she could pass well as a Northern Italian or Roman lady.  I guess she does.

An interesting thing was that the Fuerstin, played by her, described her first meeting with her Fuerst by saying that he looked schoen to her.  German has no word for "handsome" so an attractive man is normally described as huebsch -- "pretty".  To describe him as schoen ("beautiful") is therefore a considerable compliment.

The famous aria from the show was of course "Roses in Tyrol" but I thought the aria sung by the princess (Serafin) in celebration of her husband ("Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum") was the standout aria. It makes me weep with its beauty. A version is  online here. It's undoubtedy one of the great love songs of all time.  In the song, the lady says she thought her husband looked beautiful when she first met him and also behaved beautifully on their wedding night.

The point of the song in the show is that she has just been informed of apparent infidelity by her husband.  She comments that it could not be so -- because she remembers him in their early life as being beautiful in both looks and behaviour.  And her faith is of course eventually justified.  Operetta has good endings.

Someone should do a singable translation of it. Here are the words with my rough translation:

Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum,  
As the cherry tree was blossoming
Ging ich zum Walde wie im Traum;  
I walked to the woods as in a dream
An des Brunnens kuehlen Rand, 
At the cool edge of the fountain
Wo hell die weisse Birke stand.  
Where brightly the white beech stood
An dem blauen Himmelsbogen 
Under the blue bow of the sky
Ging der Mond, die Sterne zogen
The moon came out and the stars shone
Einen Reiter hoert' ich jagen
I heard a horseman hunting
Und mein Herz hub an zu schlagen
And my heart gave a leap
Denn er hielt sein Roesslein an
When he reined in his dear horse
Ach ja, er war ein schoener, ein schoener Mann!  
Oh yes.  He was a beautiful, beautiful man

Still verklang der Hochzeit Pracht  
The wedding bells no longer rang
Und von den Bergen stieg die Nacht
And night was climbing up the mountains
Bang trat ich ins Brautgemach
I anxiously entered the bridal chamber
Und leise, leise schlich er nach!
And softly, softly he followed me
Draussen fielen Bluetenflocken
Outside flower petals fell
Drin der Kranz von meinen Locken 
Inside the garland from my hair
Heimlich fluestend half der Freier  
Softly whispering my suitor helped me
Mir zu loesen Band und Schleier
To take off my ribbons and veil
Sah dabei mich zaertlich an
Looking at me so tenderly
Ach, er war doch ein schoener, schoener Mann!  
Oh! He certainly was a beautiful, beautiful man

I have heard a few different performances of the song but I think the version by Serafin on the DVD that I have is as good as or better than any.  But one would expect that of her distinguished ancestry.  In saying that, however, I have just done what she obviously wants nobody to do.  She wants to make her mark in her own right without being forever indulgently treated because she is Harald's daughter.  But she should not worry. She is a genuine great talent in her own right.

But what the little boy playing cupid in that scene was all about I have no real idea. I think he was blowing a bird-call whistle as a warning to be cautious but who knows?  Or was it just an reminder  that we were talking about love in that scene?  I confess defeat.

Humour in the show:

The big explicit comedy scene was the Zwei Professoren. And part of the comedy in that for me was that the "bought" professors were only too real.  The global warming hoax has bought so many of them to this day.  plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.  In action below:


But I learnt a good jocular insult from the "professors":  "You'll never get brain damage; There's nothing to damage!" There were lots of good laughs throughout that segment -- the obnoxious and larcenous queer guy on roller-skates, for instance -- but the Zwei Professoren episode was full of laughs from beginning to end.  I even enjoyed how they walked off the scene, apparently full of themselves! A good visual joke. And I enjoyed how they did babble at times.  Having worked in a Sociology Department for many years, I recognized it! Much mumbo jumbo there!  

And even the high heels on Prof. Wuermchen were not entirely unfamiliar. And the actual heels were red!  An allusion? -- to Christian Louboutin, to Papal footwear?

"Prof. Wuermchen" means Prof. "Little Worm"; and Prof "Sueffle" means "Little Boozer".  As "Muckenstruntz & Bamschabl", The two actors performed together often as a comedy act  -- on Austrian TV of the late C20 and early C21. "The two Ronnies" would be the nearest English equivalent. But I suspect the Austrians were funnier.  Anyway, the music they marched on to -- and then off to -- was very jolly.  They must have been  an interpolation into Zeller's original script -- but a very successful one.

And in the early part of the scene there was a play on words using the French Appelation controlee and the German word Apfel. And that little joke worked perfectly well in English translation -- because our historic links with German are still there. We are the other half of the Deutsches Volk. So Apfel in German is "apple" in English. 1500 years of living apart have not changed some things very much. Sadly, however, the audience did not get it. Though, from what I heard, one lady did.  They did however get a simpler joke about Bordeaux.

Another joke in the show concerned Peter Rosenstingl.  He was a conservative Austrian politician of the late 20th century who went into a business deal with his brother that lost a lot of money and left him with big debts.  He was also found to have misused public money to prop up the enterprise. So he shot off to Brazil to get away from all that.  But they got him back and prosecuted him. So "Stanislaus" used him as a byword for big and tragic debts.

Another contemporary reference was to Antal Festetics, a genuinely distinguished Hungarian biologist and prominent Greenie in Austria at the time the show was performed.  He was used in the show to as an example of a man who knows all about the natural world.  Had the subtitlers been on the ball, they might have substituted "David Attenborough" for him.

Another jocular touch was the pigeon loft, with mechanical pigeons, set on top of the "small pavilion". Someone went to the trouble of smearing the roof of the pavilion with quite realistic-looking pigeon excreta!

And the funniest line in the show?  "Come here my little piggy bank", IMHO.  It occurs when "Baron Weps" woos his rich wife-to-be.

And operettas do often refer to one another for humorous efect.  The allusion to the "small pavilion" in  Lustige Witwe was the example of that on this occasion.  It was not part of the original libretto, of course. We also got a small bit of Celeste Aida at one stage. And Burgenland was of course referred to. Moerbisch is in Burgenland.  And both Moerbish and Harald Serafin were referred to in the dialogue as well -- probably to good comic effect among the regular patrons.

And the mosquitoes were there!  Every show that I have seen from Moerbisch seems to have some reference to the Moerbisch mosquitoes in it.  On this occasion the ladies early in the show were swatting themselves rather a lot, though not saying why.

Translation notes

I have compared my translation of the song with what appears in the subtitles and I think my translation is better. I think they got a few  things wrong.  I actually understand why they translated Freier as they did.  It means something quite different in Yiddish and they wanted to distance themselves from that.  And they translated denn quite foolishly. I actually made the same mistake myself, initially.

I am actually a bit amazed at the subtitles.  The translators don't seem to know either German or English well.  I have already mentioned what I see as deficits in their translations from German but their grasp of English idiom also seems defective.  In the early scene where the hunters are told to scram, they are told to "Make yourself sparse", which is absurd.  "Make yourself scarce" is of course the required idiom.

And describing the hunted pig as "stamped" was dumb.  "Branded" was the required translation. But I noted that, for the Fuerstin,  Durchlaucht was translated as "Milady", which was rather more appropriate than the "Serene Highness" used in Zirkusprinzessin

And I had to laugh when I noted that the subtitle translators did not know the difference between "discreet" and "discrete" -- an easy one for those of us who learnt their Fowler at an early age.

And the translators do their best to describe what Gfrerer is doing when she speaks to "Stanislaus" "per du".  He is a Graf and she is a humble postal employee so that was very cheeky.  And it confused him because it upset the status relationships that really existed between them.  She was refusing to place herself lower than him, which confused him about who she really was.  But there is no equivalent of that stuff in English (mercifully) so you have to be familiar with some  European language to know what that is all about.

Other details

Further on the casting:  I thought that the birdman (Sebastian Reinthaller) was not well cast:  He seemed too young and small for the part.  He was shorter than just about everyone else in the show. But he had a great voice and performed with great energy so did justice to it in the end. 

I liked his haircut but that means nothing.  I liked Adolf Hitler's haircut too.  In both cases it was "short back & sides" -- the haircut I had for most of my childhood and which was universal in British lands until the "Beatles" upset the applecart.  After a lifetime of hair negligence I have reverted to that haircut in my declining years.  I am of course lucky to have hair at all at my age.

And the big conk on "Stanislaus" (Marc Clear) was very noticeable. I hoped at first that it was just stage makeup but I now think it was how he was born.  If it is natural he has done well to make a stage career for himself. Maybe rhinoplasty...  He is certainly a good and powerful singer, though. His singing in the castle garden when he accosted "Christel" (Gfrerer) was very powerful, and, dare I say it? -- clear.  I note that he has appeared at Moerbish subsequently as well.

A small point:  I would like to have heard something from the Tyrolean zithers but they were rather drowned out.  Harald Serafin should have done what people usually do with harps and harpsichords: Position mikes within inches of the strings.

And I was a bit grumpy to have the grandfather in the Nachtigall song portrayed as decrepit at age 70. I am 71 and I assure everybody that I can still walk tall and straight -- when I try!

And I think I should by now mention the bicycle fad that has long prevailed at Moerbisch.  Because it is a very big stage, bicycles seem to be regarded as a good way to get around it, anachronistic or not.  I think they  have been in every Moerbisch performance that I have seen. "Christel" arrived on stage on a bike on this occasion. The fancy tricycle was another version of it.  One does see some rather odd conveyances at Moerbisch so I suppose the trike was another version of that.  The audience seemed to be amused by it.

I must admit that I am rather critical of Harald Serafin for the instructions he gave to the many "extras".  He clearly told them to be as still as the grave.  It would have been nicer if they had been allowed to smile.

But it was a very light-hearted show  -- which I quite appreciated after just having watched the very dramatic Zirkusprenzessin.  A certain irony there, however.  Carl Zeller (the composer) did not have a very happy life. 

And the ending -- with both the old and the young couples united in satisfaction and happiness, was classic operetta -- although achieved in a rather Deus ex machina way.

Even in my dotage I am still something of a sponge for knowledge so I tend to watch the credits that roll on my screen at the end of a performance.  And one thing that I noted was that  part of the costumes for this show were borrowed from the Austrian Federal Theatre.  I did not know there was such a body so I clearly still have a lot to learn. But I guess all those wigs etc had to come from somewhere.

And being undoubtedly what in Australian slang is called a "woop" (even my mother called me that!  "Poorly dressed person" would be one translation of it) I have no right to comment on costumes but I nonetheless did rather like the splendid court dress of "Baron Weps". And the huge skirts and big hair I could tolerate. But Schellenbeger took that to a new height in 2013 Bettelstudent and that did rather bug me.

My liking for Austro/Hungarian operetta is undoubtedly eccentric (even "egg-headed") for an Australian but it remains popular in the German lands -- as the big and packed audiences you see at Moerbisch demonstrate. When the cameras cut to the audience of this show, Anne commented, "Not an empty seat".  Though you have to wonder whether the Staatsoper being in recess in July/August has something to do with that. The Moerbisch season runs from early July to late August.


APPENDIX

The words of "Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol"

 Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol
In the Tyrol, when you give roses
Weiss man was das bedeuten soll:
everyone knows what it means:
Man schenkt die Rose nicht allein,
it’s not just the rose you’re giving,
Man gibt sich selber auch mit drein!
you give yourself with it!
Darf ich es wirklich so verstehen,
Can I take it to mean the same here?
Kann ich auf dieses Zeichen gehen,
Can I act on this sign?
Dann machst du wahrhaft selig mich,
It would make me blissfully happy
Schenkst mit der Rose du auch dich!
if, with a rose, you gave your own self.
Amsel und Star zieh’n jedes Jahr
Each year the blackbird and the starling
Nach ihrer Heimat wieder,
return to their home again,
Singen die alten Lieder.
they sing the old songs.
Hält mich das Glück hier jetzt zurück?
Am I kept here by happiness?
Wag’ es zu hoffen kaum,
I hardly dare to hope
Denn in mir klingts wie ein Traum:
as a dream chimes within me:
Schenkt man sich Rosen in Tirol…
In the Tyrol, when you give roses…


Friday, July 10, 2015


Zirkusprinzessin (Circus Princess)

Hallstein with "Mr. X" (Rudolf Schock)

The initial encounter. Rudolf Schock is a lucky man

The casting

I was particularly pleased to get a copy of this operetta, as the leading lady is none other than the elegantly beautiful Bavarian Kammersängerin, Ingeborg Hallstein -- an angel with an angel's voice.   Maybe I'm a bit maudlin but I think she is the most beautiful lady ever in opera/operetta. 

I thought in this show she looked younger than in Wiener Blut and I was right -- sort of.  Zirkusprinzessin was recorded in 1969 and Wiener Blut in 1971.  But those two years made a difference IMHO.  She conveyed much more of an image of sophistication in Wiener Blut.  But that was a more sophisticated role of course. It's not often that a lady says she likes to hear that her husband is attractive to other women. 

But her facial expressions in Zirkusprinzessin as she pinged off the repulsive "Prince Sergius" were solid gold.  It was wonderful to see her in action.  As the Prince said when she had finished her little speech:  "Das war deutlich" ("that was clear").

And I liked the dramatic faces of Hallstein when she was watching the final act of the show. I thought she looked most beautiful at that point -- though whether that says something sad about me, I don't know.

Amusing that she wore her hair in the same uplifted style in both shows, complete with stars in it.  But it meant that full attention was on her face -- and it is a face worth looking at.

And at the risk of sounding ridiculous, I greatly admired the hat she wore when she arrived in Vienna from Petersburg. It was very elegant and flattering IMHO. Her other hats were good too. Congratulations to the costume department, I guess.  

Something I have not seen elsewhere is any comment on her speaking voice. It was marvellously feminine:  Breathy, low-pitched.  I'm out of words after that. I actually think she was at a peak of feminine beauty in this show, not at all like the gross Kardashians (and their emulators) of the current era.  The Kardashians actually seem FAT to me.  There!  Can I utter any greater scorn than that?  So it is a wonderful thing that this show from 1969 has been preserved.

Some details about Hallstein from Wikipedia:

"Ingeborg Hallstein (born 23 May 1936 in Munich) is a German operatic coloratura soprano famed for the purity and range of her voice, which extended from the G-sharp below middle C to the B-flat more than three octaves above it.

For her great services, among other things to the young talents, the Bayerische Kammersängerin received the Federal Cross of Merit in 1979, that order's First Class in 1996, and the Bavarian Order of Merit in 1999".

Some scenes

The show

I hope it is not churlish of me to mention it but the suspension of belief that one needs for operetta was rather stretched by the trapeze artist jumping from high up in the tent onto the back of  a horse. It was quite mad as far as I can see.  A man doing so would surely crunch his balls and break the back of the horse.  It did however make good drama.  

There were a few jokes in it but not many.  The second string story did good service there, though -- with the Pelikan scenes being quite hilarious at times.  But the Hungarian dialogue there stumped me. I can make some sort of a fist of understanding most European languages but Hungarian and Finnish are in a world of their own.  Kalman does seem to put bits of Magyar (his native language) into his shows for no obvious reason.  Maybe the fact that NOBODY outside the Hungarian lands is remotely interested in Magyar bothered him.   His intervention did no good, however.

And I did learn something amusing from "Toni", the second string romantic.  He described the dancing ladies he admired as having "marzipan legs".  I would never have thought of that one.  Presumably he meant white.

I am not the first to note that Kalman stole the plot for Zirkusprinzessin  from Millocker's Bettelstudent of 40 years previously.  But operettas do a lot of borrowing from one another so that is not too remarkable.  

Getting married

The wedding ceremony

Translation issues

An amusing thing about the English subtitles:  Towards the end of the show, the German word Lust was translated as "lust" -- which sounded quite jarring in the circumstances.  The German word means "pleasure" or "enjoyment" or some such. The translator's lot is not a happy one (to misquote Gilbert & Sullivan) but that was a real boo-boo.  A common one, however.

I am also a bit critical of the way Durchlaucht was translated.  It was at times translated as "Your Serene Highness", which is indeed its expanded meaning, but Durchlaucht is an abbreviation of that, so a translation as simply "Highness" would have been more usual.  But German has two words for "Highness", Hoheit being the other, so it is another case where there is no perfect translation. Hoheit  is a more elevated rank than Durchlaucht.  

A complication is that the same person can be addressed both as Durchlaucht and Hoheit.  The original distinction seems to have faded and left Hoheit as simply a polite form of address to anyone of Graf status or above and Durchlaucht as the common form of address for the same people.  Since the Russian aristocracy was allegedly involved, Gospodina might have been considered in this case

Mind you, referring to Hallstein as Serene Highness is not unreasonable.  She does indeed come across as serene -- completely delectable, in fact.

"Highness" is the English equivalent of Hoheit but usage of "Highness" is much more limited.  Only the Queen can bestow that appellation in England.

Overall

There were enough machinations for grand opera but everybody ended up alive and happy, of course, in proper operetta style.  Certainly a great romance.

And the sub-plot ended up well too, with the aid of some amazing co-incidence!  You do usually have two or more happy endings in an operetta and that was delivered.

It was a great show with lots happening and some implausible love at first sight.  But love at first sight is a staple of operetta, of course.  There was much drama and it did get me in. I was feeling a bit teary at the end.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015



Der Rosenkavalier



Richard Strauss is a long way from being Johann Strauss and I would not normally pay a cent for anything by him --  but Der Rosenkavalier is often described as a comic opera.  So I thought that maybe Richard Strauss had his moments.  He didn't.  It was the DVD set from the 2004 Salzburg festival that I bought and I am mightily glad that I did not pay much for it.  There was not a single laugh in it that I could see  -- and not a single memorable aria.

I realize however that I am coming from a particular place. I like Austro/Hungarian operetta from either side of the dawning of the 20th century, and although Richard Strauss is of roughly that period, he is not of that ilk.  He belongs within the tradition of 19th century grand opera. He is a "romantic" in the sense that Wagner and Verdi were romantics. He has a few good moments but that is the best I can say of him.

Der Rosenkavalier was full of meandering "philosophical" reflections  that could have been completely excised for the benefit of the story -- and the first half of the show was a sustained display of disgusting behaviour.

Hitler liked the works of Richard Strauss and I think I can see why. "Baron Ox" would have been a sympathetic figure to Nazis. He is of course the very anathema to me.

The only thing that distinguishes the show from a 19th century grand opera is that it had a happy ending.  We must be thankful for small mercies I guess.  It was first performed in 1911 when operetta was in full popularity so the happy ending may have been a concession to the times.

Hmmmm.... On reflection, I guess that what I am supposed to find funny was the pomposity of the baron and his various downfalls.  But I found his egotism and bad attitude to women all too real. I guess I should watch it again but just watching it once was trial enough for me.  I just don't find arrogance and a bad attitude to women funny.