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Carl MILLÖCKER (1842-1899)
Der Bettelstudent (1882) [77.03]
Cornelia Zink (soprano) - Laura; Linda Plech (mezzo) - Palmatica; Mirko Roschkowski (tenor) - Symon; Adriane Queiroz (soprano) - Bronislava; Erwin Belakowitsch (tenor) - Jan; Henryk Böhm (bass) - Ollendorf; Olaf Plassa (baritone) - Enterich; Rui dos Santos (tenor) - Wangenheim; Rupert Bergmann (bass) - Onupherie; Alexander Voigt (tenor) - Piffke; Daniel Strasser (tenor) - Paffke; Steven Scheschareg (bass) - Bogumil; Franziska Stanner (mezzo) - Eva; Michael Zehe (bass) - von Henrici; Yuri Dmytruk (bass) - von Schweinitz; Alexandra Joel - von Richthofen; Dirk Lohr - von Rochow; Bernd Ander - Rey, Host
Mörbisch Festival Choir and Orchestra/Uwe Thiemer
rec. Seefestpiele Mörbisch, 30 May-2 June 2012

This issue of a German operetta rarely heard outside German-speaking countries forms part of a series of recordings deriving from the Seefestspiele Mörbisch issued on Oehms, of which six other issues in the same vein are advertised on the back of the booklet. It is good to have these works presented in modern recordings, but yet again I have to raise issues about the presentation and in particular the severe lack of essential information which is required to help the listener follow the plot.
In the old days of LP it could be taken more or less for granted that an operatic issue would contain a frequently substantial booklet providing a synopsis of the plot, the complete text as sung on the recording and often translations into one or more languages. With the arrival of CD it often became more difficult to provide such extensive information in the smaller size of the booklets required, but many companies continued to do so with the assistance of inserts into boxed folders containing the CDs. In recent years however there has become an increasing tendency to neglect such matters, and I have had occasion to comment unfavourably upon this on many occasions. Most of the time such criticisms have fallen on apparently deaf ears, but to do them justice some producers and companies have responded to me with various reasons why the provision of synopses, texts and translations cannot be sustained. These reasons possibly warrant some exploration, and this review in a continuing series would appear be a good occasion on which to do so.
1. “The texts are copyright and permission to reproduce them cannot be obtained or would be unsustainably costly.”This, I’m afraid, just won’t wash. If a writer is having his or her text provided as part of an issue promoting their works, it is surely inconceivable either that they would refuse permission or seek to charge excessively for the same.
2. “The costs of producing a booklet of the size required would be excessive.Well, one can understand this in the context of a reissue of an existing performance, especially if the reissue is being made available at bargain price. However many of these reissues derive from recordings which did have full texts and translations in their original format, so at the very least one would expect the existing material to be made available to purchasers, if necessary online.
3. “The texts and translations are available online anyway.This follows on from the previous rationale, and it is true that many companies do make texts (and sometimes translations) available in this manner - and Naxos, for example, manage to do this at budget price. This is especially important in the case of operatic works which fall outside the mainstream repertory. It is also true that there are sites on the internet which provide texts of operas which can be printed or downloaded. However, and most particularly in the case of full-priced issues, there seems to be no reason why purchasers of expensive sets should be required to do this.
4. “Most people just want to listen to the music, and don’t care about the dramatic context.” If this is true - which I doubt -I find it simply incomprehensible as an argument. If I am listening to any dramatic work, I want to know what is going on. If any listener is really not interested, one wonders what they are doing listening to operas (or operettas) in the first place. No composer that I know of, no matter how light-hearted the music they are writing, has ever contended that the words are not important.
5. “There simply isn’t room for the material in a CD booklet, or the typeface would have to be unreasonably small.”Well, some companies seem to manage all right, and even small typefaces are better than nothing at all. This is particularly germane in the case of the present issue of Der Bettelstudent, where a booklet of twenty pages finds over ten pages available to provide bilingual biographies of the performers, but can make room only for a half-page synopsis which is not even cued to the tracks on the CD. Track listing is confined to the back of the box, with not even any indication of the voice ranges of the individual characters to enable the listener to tell who is singing what. The brief and chatty synopsis tells us that the plot enshrines “a somewhat confusing situation” - and never was a truer word written.
For those who do not regard such issues as unimportant, I should let potential purchasers know that a text of Der Bettelstudent is available online, not from the record company but on the Swiss site Opera Guide. You can use Google to translate it for you from the original German into a fractured sort of English. There is also a complete copy of the 1882 vocal score available from IMSLP although this gives only the text in German. In reviewing this set I have had recourse to both online sources, but if Oehms are intent on selling their issues outside German-speaking territories I would urge them to consider making such material available online for download.
I already own a copy of an earlier 1958 release of Der Bettelstudent conducted by Werner Schmidt-Boelcke which has been reissued several times - although its availability seems to have been patchy - but it inevitably sounds somewhat dated. It must however be observed that somewhat boxy orchestral tone in the Introduction here hardly gives a good impression and the chorus and solo voices are very forwardly placed in the balance with plentiful added echo which gives the whole a similarly rather old-fashioned feel. There is no evidence of any audience presence. Although the issue seems to derive from a stage production - credits are given to stage director and designer - the recording appears to have been made in a studio with plenty of intervention from well-meaning engineers. Judging by the vocal score, a number of items are cut, but we are given plentiful repeats of strophic songs which make little sense if the purpose of the issue is simply to give us the music - as indeed is testified by the complete omission of any spoken dialogue.

The first solo voice we hear, Olaf Plassa, delivers his words in a sort of voice which goes well beyond D’Oyly Carte G&S delivery into something that more closely recalls Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady. This sort of stylistic confusion also extends to Henryk Böhm, although he clearly has a naturally warm voice - in the Hermann Prey mould - which is done no favours by the close microphone placing to which it is subjected. Indeed the singing throughout is of a rather pop-orientated ilk, although the following duet for Mirko Roschkowski and Erwin Belakowitsch again gives us the chance to hear basically pleasant voices; their opening duet is subjected to cuts and trimmings. Linda Plech has a rather matronly style of delivery, none too steady of tone, which might just about be acceptable for an elderly Gilbertian matron but contrasts unfavourably with more charming soubrette tone of Cornelia Zink in their concerted passages.
The trimmings to which the music is subjected in this issue and the omission of dialogue were presumably made in order to fit the score onto a single CD - the earlier Schmidt-Boelcke issue extended to two discs - and many listeners will probably feel that this is as much of Der Bettelstudent as they need to hear. Archiv currently lists no other recording of the score which make any pretensions to completeness, although at one time there appears to have been another two-disc CD reissue in 1989 of a set conducted by Franz Allers which contains a cast which seems to be superior to either of the rival recordings including as it does Rita Streich, Nicolai Gedda and Hermann Prey. I have not heard this issue, but should point out that the reliable and informative Kurt Gänzl in his Musical Theatre on Record regarded it as superior to any rival, although he complained about “almost always tiny slimmings and cuts” in the music. Copies of this presumably more naturally recorded release are listed as available on Amazon and might well repay investigation for those interested, although new copies advertised there seem to be on the pricey side.
Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous review: Ian Lace