BEST OF OPERETTA, VOL. 1 (Alfred Walter/ Hungarian Operetta Orchestra/ Ingrid Kertesi/ Janos Berkes/ Laszlo Kovacs/ Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/ Tamas Benedek/ Zsuzsa Csonka) (Naxos: 8.550941)
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The Best of Operetta Vol. 1
Operetta developed in the second half of the nineteenth century from very similar antecedents, the opera comique of France and the more light-hearted Singspiel of German-speaking countries. In Paris Offenbach, son of a Cologne synagogue cantor, established himself with his series of operas bouffes and it was initally with performances of these in Vienna that the genre took root there, inspiring work by Suppé and, at the earlier suggestion of Offenbach himself, Johann Strauss. Viennese operetta was in essence coterminous with the Habsburg Empire. After 1918 Berlin assumed the position once held by Vienna in operetta, and as popular musical tastes diverged more and more with the passing of time, the genre became something of the past, displaced by the commercial products of Broadway and its imitators.
The first volume of The Best of Operetta includes excerpts from operettas by Johann Strauss, Franz Lehár and Imre Kálmán. Strauss himself had followed his father's example, in spite of the latter's expressed desire, establishing his own dance-orchestra and later recruiting his two younger brothers, Josef and Eduard, into the family enterprise. The Strauss reputation extended far beyond the confines of Vienna and Strauss orchestras appeared in different cities of Europe, providing an entertainment that suited very well the spirit of the time. Johann Strauss first turned his attention to operetta partly at the suggestion of Offenbach and more immediately at the urging of his first wife, the singer Henriette Chaputzky. The first result was Indigo and the Forty Thieves in 1871, its performance relying for its inevitable success on the great popularity of its composer and the political feelings of the time, as Vienna seemed now to prove a match for Paris.
Johann Strauss was not always happy in his librettists. Der Zigeunerbaron (The Gypsy Baron), however, was an undoubted success in both music and text. The libretto by Ignaz Schnitzler was derived from a novel by the Hungarian writer Mór Jókai. Set in the middle of the eighteenth century it deals with the return of Sandor Barinkay to his native Temesvár from which his father had been exiled twenty years before. The drama concerns Barinkay's desire to regain his property, with its hidden treasure, and win the hand of the gypsy girl Sáffi, one of the gypsy company that has welcomed him as their lost leader, a true gypsy baron. Barinkay's varied earlier occupations are described in Ais flotter Geist (As a cheerful spirit) . In Wer uns getraut (Who married us)  he explains to the unimpressed Royal Commissioner how he has been married to Sáffi in the gypsy manner, the ceremony conducted by a bullfinch and witnessed by two storks, with music provided by a nightingale. The present release opens with the Overture , which, at the first performance, was interrupted by the applause of the audience at each theme.
The appearance of Frühlingsstimmen  (Voices of Spring) in the theatre was purely accidental. Written for the coloratura soprano Bianca Bianchi, with words by Richard Genée, it was later included by her in a performance of Le Roi l'a dit by Delibes at the Vienna Court Theatre and subsequently won much greater popularity as an orchestral waltz and in a piano version.
Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice), with an indifferent libretto by Zell (Camillo Walzel) and Genée, was first staged in Berlin at the Friedrich-Wilhelm Stadtischer Theater in 1883. Komm'in die Condole  (Come into the gondola) is sung by Caramello, barber to the Duke of Urbino, who thinks he is welcoming the Duke's betrothed, although the girl is, in fact, his own mistress.
Franz Lehár, in operetta the true successor to Strauss, was the son of a Hungarian bandmaster and for a time followed his father's example, before winning success in Vienna with what was in fact his eighth attempt at operetta, Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), first staged at the Theater an der Wien in January 1905. The libretto was by Victor Leon and Leo Stein, based on a French original by Meilhac, Offenbach's collaborator. The plot concerns the widow of the title, Hanna Glawari, relict of a rich Pontevedrin banker, and the endeavours of the Pontevedrin envoy to Paris, Baron Zeta, to keep her fortune for Pontevedro by compelling a junior diplomat, Danilo, to marry her, before her money goes to some French husband. Previous difficulties engendered by various intrigues are resolved in the third act Lippen schweigen  (Lips are silent) between Hanna and Danilo.
Lehár's Giuditta realised for the composer an outstanding ambition, staged, as it was, at the Vienna staatsoper in 1934, making use of the full resources of the house. With a libretto by Fritz Löhner and Paul Kepler, the opera-operetta deals with the love of Giuditta, a role taken by Jarmila Novotna, tired of her husband Manuele, for the army captain Octavio, a role for Richard Tauber. It is Octavio who expresses his joy in living in Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert  (Friends, life is worth living). She goes with him, when his regiment is posted to North Africa, and they live together in happiness until Octavio's duties call him away. Giuditta now becomes a dancer in a night club, where she attracts many rich customers, as is clear from Meine Lippen, sie küssen sa heiß  (My lips, so hot are their kisses). She prospers in her new profession, while Octavio eventually deserts from the army. By the time that they meet again he is a night-club pianist, while she continues as a successful dancer.
Friederike, written in 1928, is based on the life of Goethe. O Mädchen, mein Mädchen  (Girl, my girl) was written for Richard Tauber, who ensured its success. It was for the same singer that Lehár wrote Das Land des Lächelns (The Land of Smiles), with a libretto by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner. A revised version of the earlier Die gelbe Jacke (The Yellow Jacket), with a libretto by Victor Léon, this was first mounted at the Berlin Metropoltheater in 1929. The plot deals with the love between the Chinese Prince Sou-Chong, sung by Tauber, and Lisa, daughter of Count Lichtenfels. The best known of all songs is Dein ist mein ganzes Herz  (Thine is my heart), Tauber's signature tune, in which Sou-Chong protests his love for Lisa, when urged by Chinese custom to take four wives. The love of Lisa and Sou-Chong, after his return to China as prime minister, is expressed in Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenkt?  (Who has planted this love deep in our hearts?). From the first act, set in Vienna, comes Immer nur lächeln  (Always only smiling), a reference to Sou-Chong's alleged inscrutability, and his description of courting customs in China, Van Apfelblüten einen Kranz  (A garland of apple-blossom).
The Hungarian composer Imre (Emmerich) Kalman, once a fellow-student of Bartók and Kodály in Budapest, gave up his more serious ambitions to achieve success after 1918 as a composer of operetta, winning particular popularity in 1924 with Gräfin Mariza (Countess Maritsa), with a libretto by Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald. Komm mit nach Varasdin  (Come with me to Varasdin) is a duet between the rich Hungarian countess of the title and Zsupan, who has turned up unexpectedly to claim her as his bride. Maritsa had tried to fend off suitors by claiming a certain Zsupan as her betrothed, taking the name from