change a winning team’. This seems to have been Walter Legge’s
maxim when he produced his legendary and possibly never surpassed
Viennese operetta series in the early and mid-1950s. With Otto
Ackermann at the helm and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Emmy Loose,
Nicolai Gedda and Erich Kunz taking the leading parts this became
the formula. The only departure came with Die Fledermaus
where Karajan deputized as conductor and the larger cast required
some extras, Rita Streich amongst them.
was forty years ago that I found an LP with excerpts from Eine
Nacht in Venedig and Wiener Blut, a record that has
always had a honoured place in my collection. It has become
worn in the intervening years so this reissue and the companion
piece Wiener Blut, which is a couple of weeks down in
my review pile, is very welcome. The mono sound is boxy and
the string tone is thin but there is no lack of orchestral detail
and the original Philharmonia can be admired both as a collective
body and in some first-class solo contributions. The overture
has an irresistible lilt, as have the many memorable waltzes
and other dances that this score contains. Ackermann knew his
Strauss! Incidentally my first Kaiserwalzer and An
der schönen blauen Donau was a 7 inch 33 rpm Concert Hall
record with Ackermann conducting.
is the melodic richness and inventiveness of this music that
it ought to have been a world success from the outset. It wasn’t.
The premiere in Berlin was a flop. For the Viennese production
six days later Strauss indulged in some extensive rewriting
of both text and music but to little avail. It ran for 44 performances.
The rest seems to have been silence until there was a revival
in Berlin in 1923. For this Marischka and Korngold revised the
book and the score, re-ordering, cutting, re-scoring and also
adding numbers from Strauss’ Simplicius. In this form
it became the success that the music deserves. This was partly
thanks to Richard Tauber who sang the Duke but the fining down
of the complicated story certainly played its part. It is in
this version that it has continued to enchant operetta lovers
and it is this version that is employed here.
needn’t go very deeply into the plot but the Duke, like his
counterpart in Rigoletto, is a notorious skirt-chaser.
The action, culminating in a masked ball during the carnival,
concentrates on preventing the Duke from working his will. There
are some piquant turns in the story but what matters is the
music and the high spirits and this is as high-spirited a reading
as can be imagined. In the late 1960s EMI – or rather German
Electrola – issued a stereo remake with an excellent cast and
with Nicolai Gedda again the Duke. It is good no doubt and Gedda
is more virile but in the last resort it lacks the charm and
the Viennese lilt of this performance.
ingredients in this brew work together to bring out the magic
and an air of festivity. The chorus, who have a lot to sing,
are alert and spirited. Buffo tenor Peter Klein as the cook
Pappacoda is expressive, both as a singer and an actor. Emmy
Loose is an enchantingly twittering Ciboletta. When the fisher-girl
Annina appears in her boat, she advertises her products Frutti
di mare! with all the seductive charm of which Elisabeth
Schwarzkopf is capable. Her lover, Caramello, lively and warm
of voice, is the inimitable Erich Kunz. Their duet Pellegrina
rondinella! has been a favourite ever since I bought the
LP. Finally, of the central characters, the Duke of Urbino makes
his entrance with Sei mir gegrüsst, du holdes Venezia
– both honeyed and with brilliance, even though Nicolai Gedda
had even more go a dozen or so years later. In the spoken dialogue
he is sometimes too weak, too reticent for a Duke. Karl Dönch
is a whining Delacqua and as his wife Barbara Hanna Ludwig’s
fruity contralto stands in sharp contrast to the other ladies’
spoken dialogue is wisely cut but enough – about ten minutes
– is retained to keep the story alive. Non-German speakers may
have some difficulties following events, but the synopsis at
least gives a hint of what is going on.
lover of this delectable score should miss this issue. It is
unlikely that you will ever hear it better sung, played or acted.