BEST OF OPERETTA, VOL. 2 (Alfred Walter/ Hungarian Operetta Orchestra/ Ingrid Kertesi/ Janos Berkes/ Laszlo Kovacs/ Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra/ Tamas Benedek/ Zsuzsa Csonka) (Naxos: 8.550942)
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The Best of Operetta Vol. 2
The second volume of The Best of Operetta opens with an acknowledgement of the great first master of Viennese operetta, the younger Johann Strauss. Following his father's example and against his father's express wishes, he had established his own dance-orchestra, later involving his two younger brothers in the family enterprise and providing music that entranced Europe. Strauss turned his attention to operetta relatively late in his career, inspired by the success of the Parisian Offenbach and the urging of his first wife. His first attempt at the form, Indigo and the Forty Thieves, was in 1871 and this was followed by a series of works in which attractive music was not always matched by a satisfactory libretto. Eine Nacht in Venedig (A Night in Venice) was first staged in 1883 in Berlin rather than in Vienna, since there were now very clear rumours of the liaison between Strauss's second wife, Lili, and the manager of the Theater an der Wien, Franz Steiner. In Berlin the work was a disaster but when it was given in Vienna the music, at least, was well received, and something of the performance was saved by the talents of the comic actor- singer Girardi, for whom Strauss had been obliged to provide suitable material. The Overture  avoids, of course, any of the dramatic weakness of the piece and can stand well enough on its own, together with the Lagunen Walzer (Lagoon Waltz) and Gondellied (Gondola Song).
Franz Lehár, son of a Hungarian bandmaster, whose profession he had at first followed, was the true successor of Strauss, reviving the genre of operetta that had begun to flag and continuing the form into the new century, until debasing commercial influences consigned Viennese operetta to a place in history. Lehár's first and greatest success came in 1905 with Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow), with a libretto by Victor Léon and Leo Stein based on a French comedy by Henri Meilhac. The action opens with a reception at the Pontevedrin legation in Paris. The rich widow Hanna Glawari seems an easy prey for French fortune-hunters, but the Pontevedrin envoy Baron Zeta is determined to keep her fortune for his own country, urging the legation secretary Danilo to marry her. After various intrigues and misunderstandings all ends happily, when Hanna and Danilo declare their love for each other. In O Vaterland  (O Fatherland) Danilo declares that he has done enough for his country, without having to marry a rich widow. The famous Vilja-Lied is sung by Hanna Glawari at a reception in her garden, a folk-song for the entertainment of her guests.
Lehár's Paganini, with a libretto by Paul Knepler and Béla Jenbach, was first staged at the Vienna Johann Strauss-Theater in 1925 and written with Richard Tauber in mind. The great violinist Paganini is to give a concert in Lucca, but this is banned by the ruling Prince, who is induced to relent by his wife, Napoleon's sister Princess Maria Anna Elisa, who is fascinated by Paganini. In the second act he has lost his violin when gambling with the court chamberlain Pimpinelli, who will return it in return for instruction in the art of wooing. In Gern hab'ich die Frau'n gekußt  (Gladly have I kissed the ladies), Paganini describes his technique. Niemand liebt dich so wie ich  (No-one loves you as I do) is a love duet between Paganini and the Princess, who helps him make his escape from Lucca, to avoid further scandal.
Der Zarewitsch (The Czarevich), with a libretto by Heinz Reichert and Béla Jenbach based on a play by Gabriele Zapolska, was first staged in Berlin at the Deutches Künstlertheater in 1927, with Richard Tauberin the principal male role of the misogynist young Tsarevich, who is to be induced to marry by the introduction of a girl in disguise, to exercise withl)im in his gymnasium. In Einer wird kommen  (One will come) Sonja agree to the plan, which leads to true love, to the dismay of the court, who had intended a royal marriage. In the Wolgalied  (Volga Song) the Tsarevich sings of his earlier isolation. All ends unhappily, when the Tsarevich ascends the throne and is compelled to leave Sonja, with whom he has eloped to Naples.
Lehár had his operetta Zigeunerliebe (Gipsy Love) first performed at the Carltheater on 8th January 1910, two months after the production of Der Graf von Luxemburg at the Theater an der Wien. Hor'ich Cymbalklänge  (I hear the sound of the cimbalom) is sung at the wedding of the heroine Zorika in the third act of the piece in appropriate gypsy celebration.
Der Graf von Luxemburg (The Count of Luxembourg), with a libretto by A.M. Willner and Robert Bodanzky, was first staged on 12th November 1909, but was considerably revised in 1937 for performance in Berlin. The plot centres on the activities of the Count of the title, Rene, who is impoverished, living with artist friends in Paris, and is induced to ennoble the singer Angèle Didier by marrying her, with the object of a quick divorce so that she may marry a Russian prince. René and Angèle are eventually united in love and marriage. In Mein Ahnherr war der Luxemburg  (My forebear was Count of Luxembourg) Rene celebrates at a Paris street carnival.
Imre (Emmerich) Kálmán was a contemporary of Bartók and Kodály at the Budapest Academy of Music and at first coupled a career as a music critic with more conventionally serious composition, before, in 1908, turning his attention to operetta. The success of Tatárjárás (The Gay Hussars) in Vienna led Kálmán to settle there. Political events compelled him, in 1939, to move to Paris and later to the United States of America. He died in Paris in 1953. The operetta Die Zirkusprinzessin (The Circus Princess) was first staged in Vienna in 1926 at the Theater an der Wien. The libretto by Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald centres on the intrigue surrounding the mysterious Mister X, a daring circus performer who is hired by the unsuccessful suitor of Princess Fedora Palinska to pose as a nobleman and marry her. Since Mister X is in fact a young man of good family, he is glad to do so and the couple end in happiness. Zwei Märchenaugen  (Two fairy-tale eyes) is a well known solo for Mister X, in fact Baron Korosov.
Die Csárdásfürstin (The Gypsy Princess), with a libretto by Stein and Jenbach, had its first performance at the Vienna Johann Strauss-Theater on 17th November 1915. The cabaret singer Sylva Varescu is to leave for an American tour and it is arranged that there should be a betrothal with the man she loves, Prince Edwin von und zu Lippert-Weylersheim, whose family disapprove and themselves arrange a wedding for him with his cousin Countess stasi. All comes right in the end, when it is revealed that Edwin's mother was also once a cabaret singer. Sylva's Auftrittslied  introduces the heroine as she attends a party to bid her farewell before her tour abroad. It is followed by Ganz ohne Weiber  (Completely without women) expressing the feelings of Count Boni Kancsianu, one of her admirers. In Machen wir's die Schwalben nach  (Lets copy the swallows) Edwin and Countess Stasi offer a waltz duet, while a further waltz song, Tanzen möchteich  (I would dance), provides a celebration of the love of Sylva and Edwin.
The composer Robert Stolz, a near contemporary of Kálmán, was immensely prolific with a long series of songs and operettas. The