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Carl ZELLER (1842-98)
Der Vogelhändler (1891) [79.49]
Elena Puszta (soprano) – Kurfürstin Marie: Dagmar Schellenberger (mezzo-soprano) – Baronin Adelaide: Rupert Bergmann (baritone) – Baron Weps: Bernhard Berchtold (tenor) – Adam: Martina Fender (soprano) – Christel: Maximilian Mayer (tenor) – Graf Stanislaus: Wolfgang Dosch (tenor) – Süffle: Gerhard Ernst (baritone) – Würmchen: Raimund Stangl (baritone) – Schneck: Mörbich Festival Chorus and Orchestra/Gerrit Priessnitz
rec. Seefestspiele Mörbich, 2017

The Austrian composer of operettas Carl Zeller is almost exclusively known outside German-speaking lands for one song, his ‘Sei nicht’ bös’ from Der Obersteiger – but in Germany and Austria his Vogelhändler maintains a place in the central repertoire, and has received a goodly number of complete or near-complete recordings over the years. This very full CD omits only two items from the score – the opening of Act Three and Adam’s final song, both also truncated from the ‘complete’ version starring Anneliese Rothenberger and Adolf Dallapozza and conducted by Willi Boskovsky which at one time was available on EMI. This has the unfortunate effect of reducing the musical content of the final Act, already short even in terms of Viennese operettas of the period, to under seven minutes in duration, though the EMI set at least provided some of the spoken dialogue.

This set is described as being a “live recording of the première performances” of this new production; but if it really is live the audience are suspiciously quiet throughout, and there is no sign of any applause even at the most obvious points such as the end of Acts or the big solo numbers. What is immediately apparent however is the fact that the recording has been made on the lakeside stage of the Mörbich Festival, with the orchestra very much in the open air and the singers subjected to close scrutiny by the microphones which robs the sound of any sense of a natural acoustic. The cast is generally respectable rather than stellar, although the festival’s intendant Dagmar Schellenberger makes a cameo appearance in the relatively small role of Adelaide; and the two comedians who take the roles of Süffle and Würmchen in their one number (track 14) fail to provide accurate singing either in terms of pitch or rhythm. Bernhard Berchtold is nicely ringing in the title role, but in general the performers are comprehensively outclassed by their EMI rivals, who were recorded in a studio acoustic which may sound over-weightily symphonic to some ears, but which provides a more satisfactory listening experience in the long term.

In the past I have complained about the dismal presentation of some of these Mörbich operetta discs, and I am afraid that there is little improvement to report. We are given nearly a full page devoted to an enthusiastic description of the festival itself, with “expanded gastronomic offerings with regard to epicurean delights” and a “breathtaking view of the vineyards”; but then we are vouchsafed no information whatsoever on Zeller or the operetta itself, apart from half a page of synopsis in four very brief paragraphs. Two of these may give a representative sample: “The princess then arrives to catch her husband, in flagranti [sic]. At the same time Adam the birdseller comes to visit his fiancée Christel. Christel wishes to ask the prince to give Adam a job. / A jolly play of mistaken identities, jealousy and love commences”. There are no texts or translations even of the sung numbers (and those participating in these are not fully identified, either); and since there is no vestige of the spoken dialogue, even German speakers will find the “jolly play” impossible to follow. For those who have seen the production (and a double-page photograph in the booklet makes it look very impressive), this will be a welcome souvenir; but for others incomprehensibility will be the order of the day. There are a further three pages of photographs that could well have been sacrificed for more helpful information, and the anonymous textual material that is provided comes in German and English only. The booklet fails even to specify the voice types of each role; those given above have been extracted from other sources.

Oddly enough, of the currently available alternative ‘complete’ sets on CD, we find featured an alternative recording of Der Vogelhändler from the Mörbich Festival taken from 1998 studio sessions (which was paralleled by a video version, absolutely complete but apparently without subtitles) which Ian Lace reviewed enthusiastically for this site in its audio issue. There is also a version in English from the enterprising Ohio Light Opera issued in 2008, which extends over two discs and therefore includes most of the spoken dialogue to flesh out the action. In purely musical terms, with its mixture of student and professional forces, it obviously fails to compete with the EMI set, but for English-speaking audiences it may well have its attractions. The EMI disc is no longer listed as currently available on Archiv, but is listed in several different forms on Amazon at quite reasonable prices. Kurt Gänzl in his Musical Theatre on Record prefers an earlier complete 1950s version on Philips starring Julius Patzak, even more complete; but complained even in 1990 that “Philips have let this one go well and truly out of print” and it certainly doesn’t appear ever to have surfaced on CD. Those who wish to explore this operetta – and it is a delightful example of its genre, certainly more worthy of notice than some of the Johann Strauss rarities that have emerged in recent years – will probably best be served by the Boskovsky recording on EMI.

Paul Corfield Godfrey



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