Franz LEHÁR (1870-1948)
Die Juxheirat (1904)
Gerhard Ernst – Thomas Brockwiller
Maya Boog – Selma, baroness von Wilfort, his daughter
Alexander Kaimbacher – Captain Arthur, his son
Sieglinde Feldhofer – Miss Phoebe
Ilia Staple – Miss Edith
Jevgenij Taruntsov – Harold von Reckelburg
Anna-Sophie Kostal – Juliane von Reckenburg
Christoph Filler – Philly Kaps
Tomaz Kovacic – Huckland
Chor des Lehár Festivals Bad Ischl
Franz Lehár-Orchester/Marius Burkert
rec. live, Festspielsaal, Bad Ischl, 12-14 August, 2016
The German libretto (excl. the spoken dialogue) enclosed
CPO 555 049-2 [63:12 + 59:42]
Franz Lehár was born in Hungary and until he was twelve he only spoke Hungarian. His father was a bandmaster in a regiment in the Austro-Hungarian army, and while his younger brother Anton went to cadet school in Vienna to be a professional officer, Franz studied violin in Prague. Antonin Dvorak advised him to focus on composition instead, but according to the rules he couldn’t study both performing and composition. He took a few lessons with Zdenik Fibich but basically he was self-taught as composer. After graduation in 1888 he joined his father’s band as assistant bandmaster and later worked as bandmaster in several places. But he was minded to be a composer and in the early 1890s he wrote a couple of operas, one incomplete, the other never performed. In 1896 his opera Kukuška was accepted by Stadttheater Leipzig but the success was scant, and his next two attempts in 1901 were never finished. The libretto of one of them, Das Klub-Baby, was written by Viktor Léon, with whom he collaborated on some further works. In November 1902 Der Klavierstimmer was performed at Theater an der Wien, and four weeks later Der Rastelbinder was mounted at Carltheater, also in Vienna. He was slowly on his way to be someone. In January 1904 Der Göttergatte (libretto Léon and Stein) was premiered at Carltheater, and in December the same year Die Juxheirat was produced at Theater an der Wien. A year later, on 30 December 1905 his next operetta first saw the light of day, Die lustige Witwe (The Merry Widow). It was a tremendous success and together with Strauss II’s Fledermaus it is still the epitome of operetta.
When listening to Die Juxheirat it is worth keeping in mind that it represents the penultimate step on the ladder to stardom for Franz Lehár. Is it possible to anticipate a world success within a year? Yes, there are more than hints in the music, and even though the score isn’t the string of pearls that the Merry Widow score is, there are several attractive numbers – and one recognises the “Lehár formula”: the sweeping waltzes, Philly’s entrance in act I has some similarities with Danilo’s entrance in the Widow (CD 1 tr. 8), the finales of both act I and II are on a grand scale, very typical of the mature Lehár.
So why did it flop? It had good reviews and the following performances after the premiere were sold out, but interest waned and the production was closed down after thirty-nine performances. Was it the libretto? Well, it was very up to date – maybe too much – with Philly an automobile chauffeur, with the main female character Selma (who actually is a widow!) having established a liberal women’s club with the motto “Get Rid of Men” and Thomas Brockwiller, Selma’s father, a billionaire – ten years later a certain John D Rockefeller became the world’s first billionaire! Possibly the story was too messy with too many side-plots. The gist of the story of Die Juxheirat (The Fake Marriage) is that Brockwiller wants his daughter to marry again (but her women’s lib inclination is a serious hang-up) and arranges a chain of intrigues. The intended candidate, Count von Reckenburg is turned down by Selma, who refuses to meet him. The Count’s sister Juliane wants revenge because Selma married her intended husband and now she is to seduce Selma, disguised as her brother. Selma falls in the trap and starts dating the Count, believing that he is his sister in disguise. Do you follow me? They marry and soon Juliane appears – and Selma realizes that she has married the Count. She runs away. In the third act, some months later, she meets the Count again – he with divorce papers. But, as so often in operettas – and maybe in real life as well, who knows – he declares his love to her and she can’t resist any longer. This affair, which is accompanied with a number of other love affairs, has been dressed in some truly charming Lehárian costumes – he was already 34 when he composed this score and no novice when it came to orchestrations. Listen to the entr’act (CD 1 tr. 13) after the first act! In the second act there is an interesting Wagner pasticcio (CD 2 tr. 2), Arthur’s Lied (CD 2 tr. 6) is a lovely waltz, the Tanzterzett (CD 2 tr. 10) is a lively piece, full of go, and in the finale of the short act III the Count sings Nicht allein sollst du sein / folge nur der Natur! A lovely melodic inspiration! And then – everything sorted out comes the rousing end with hand clapping and bass drum.
Indeed it is a charming piece – as long as one is reasonably fluent in German. The libretto is printed in the booklet, but the spoken dialogue is not and that is a pity. The ensemble is a fine team, several of which are excellent actors and the central characters sing well. Christoph Filler is a good Philly and Sieglinde Feldhofer’s Phoebe very attractive. Captain Arthur, who is Selma’s brother, has a pleasant voice. Ilia Staple in the role of Edith is the possessor of a high, bright coloratura soprano. The Swiss soprano Maya Boog is, I believe, the best-know of the singers and she has all the experience and expressivity to make a rounded portrait of Selma, even though her vibrato at times can be unnecessarily wide. As Count Harold, whom she finally kisses in the last scene, we hear Ukraine-born Jevgenij Taruntsov. He has a well-equalized voice that he employs with taste and skill. The live recording is very good and as usual with CPOs products the liner notes in German and English are comprehensive.
Readers who have followed this extended series of Lehár operettas will find much to enjoy in this issue.