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Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
Die Fledermaus [110:22]
Eine Nacht in Venedig [95:22]
Der Zigeunerbaron [101:37]
Simplicius [117:54]
Wiener Blut [97:01]
Casts and other details at end of review: no texts or translations included
WARNER 9846642 [10 CDs: c.11:00:00]

Johann Strauss the Younger wrote over seventeen stage works although only two are regularly performed today. This set naturally includes those together with the two best known of the remainder. There is also a fascinating curiosity in the shape of Simplicius. Apart from the latter - a live recording (although this is not obvious) from Zürich in 1999, the recordings here date from the 1960s and 1970s. All include dialogue, usually shortened and recorded at a higher level than the music, but sufficient to provide a break between musical numbers without boring the listener.
The best of the set by far in terms of performance is Die Fledermaus. It is wholly idiomatic, with the whole very distinguished cast seeming to enjoy themselves the whole time. Opinions do vary as to the suitability of Fischer-Dieskau’s Falke, but for me his care over words and his memorably touching start to “Brüderlein und schwesterlein” more than make up for some occasional over-emphases. Brigitte Fassbaender’s Orlovsky is another vivid characterisation, and the rest of a starry cast including Nicolai Gedda, Anneliese Rothenberger and Renate Holm all know exactly how to project music which can easily sound routine or exaggerated in other hands. Willi Boskovsky also avoids routine and exaggeration and the result is a fresh and enjoyable performance.
Boskovsky’s relaxed and idiomatic conducting also ensures success in Wiener Blut, a pastiche put together from his earlier music by Adolf Müller Jr. with Strauss’s approval just before the composer’s death. The arrangements of earlier music are not wholly convincing but sung and played with such affection this does not seem to matter. Again the whole cast is steeped in the idiom and sing with charm and individuality.
The performances of the two works conducted by Franz Allers I find much less satisfactory. The conductor is best known for his work on Broadway. It is clear, right from the first bars of the two works he conducts, that he is determined to inject the kind of energy usually essential there. This certainly makes one listen, but the results are hard-driven, charmless and dislikeable, at least to me. The distinguished casts do their best under these difficult conditions but the fundamental character of the works is missed. It is perhaps worth pointing out also that the editions used for these and for most of the works here cut or alter Strauss’s scores to some degree. Eine Nacht in Venedig is given in the radically altered version by Korngold and Marischka and Der Zigeunerbaron uses the standard Cranz edition but inflicts numerous cuts on it. As anyone who has heard the very full and newly edited version conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt will know, the Cranz edition is in any event very different to the original work. To be fair, however, this applies to most recordings of these works and I suspect that most admirers of these operettas are unlikely to choose a recording on the basis of the edition used.
In contrast to the other four works Simplicius has no rivals in the CD catalogue, and indeed it languished unperformed for many years before it was revived in a new edition in Zurich. Its setting in the Thirty Years War and its convoluted and uninvolving plot work against its success yet musically it has much to offer. I have not seen it on stage nor the DVD of the same production heard here so that I am unclear as to whether its intriguing mixture of the Strauss of his other operettas with sections more redolent of Lortzing or Weber works well in actual performance. It is nonetheless well worth hearing, especially when the cast includes such fine singers as Piotr Beczala and Michael Volle and when the conducting is as assured as it is here. I suspect however that more pleasure may be gained from the DVD where the plot should become much clearer.
Overall then this set is very much a mixed bag, with two real successes, one fascinating curiosity and two that regrettably fail to capture the character of the works concerned. No texts or translations are included although there is a brief essay in which Andrew Lamb manages to convey the essence of each operetta in a remarkably short space. Overall it is certainly a convenient way to gather a selection of Strauss’s operettas or to fill gaps in your collection but a more consistent standard of performance would make it much more attractive.
John Sheppard 
Casts and other details 
Die Fledermaus
Eisenstein - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Rosalinda - Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano); Adele - Renate Holm (soprano); Prince Orlovsky - Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo); Alfred - Adolf Dallapozza (tenor); Dr Falke - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Frank - Walter Berry (baritone); Chor der Wiener Staatsoper in der Volksoper; Wiener Symphoniker/Willi Boskovsky. rec. Schwech, Hof, Vienna, 26 Nov-3 Dec 1971 [42:15+68:07] 

Eine Nacht in Venedig

Guido - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Constania - Anneliese Rotherberger (soprano); Annina - Rita Streich (soprano); Caramello - Cesare Curzi (tenor); Pappacoda - Hans Günther Grimm (baritone); Ciboletta - Christine Görner (soprano); Enrico Piselli - Hermann Prey (baritone); Chor der Bayerischen Rundfunks; Symphonie-Orchestre Graunke/Franz Allers. rec. Bürgerbräu, Munich, 10-16 Nov 1967. [47:55+47:27] 

Der Zigeunerbaron

Count Hormonay - Hermann Prey (baritone); Count Carnero - Wolfgang Anheisser (baritone); Barinkay - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Zsupán - Kurt Böhme (bass); Arsena - Rita Streich (soprano); Mirabella - Gisela Litz (alto); Czipra - Biserka Cvejić (mezzo); Saffi - Grace Bumbry (mezzo); Chor der Bayerischen Rundfunks; Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Franz Allers. rec. 5-14 July 1969, Bürgerbräu, Munich. [54:40+46:57]
The Hermit - Michael Volle (baritone); Simplicius - Martin Zysset (tenor); General von Vlissen - Rolf Haunstein (baritone); Hildegard - Elizabeth Magnuson (soprano); Armin - Piotr Beczala (tenor); Melchior - Oliver Widner (baritone); Schnappslotte - Louise Martini (mezzo); Tilly - Martina Janková (soprano); Chor, Kinderchor und Orchester der Oper Zürich/Franz Welser-Möst. rec. Opernhaus Zürich, 2, 4, 6 November 1999
Wiener Blut
Prince Ypsheim Gindelbach - Klaus Hirte (baritone); Balduin - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Gabriele - Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano); Franziska Cagliari - Renate Holm (soprano); Kagler - Hans Putz (bass); Pepi Pleininger - Gabrielle Fuchs (soprano); Josef - Heinz Zednik (tenor); Chor der Kölner Oper; Winder Schrammein; Philharmonia Hungarica/Willi Boskovsky. no details given of recording place or date