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Richard HEUBERGER (1850 – 1914) Der Opernball (1898)
Theofil Beaubuisson – Gerhard Ernst
Palmira Beaubuisson – Lotte Marquardt
Henri, their nephew – Alexander Kalmbacher
Paul Aubier – Ivan Oreščanin
Angèle Aubier – Nadja Mchantaf
Georges Duménil – Martin Fournier
Marguérite Duménil – Margareta Klobučar
Hortense – Sieglinde Feldhofer
Philippe der Oberkellner – János Mischuretz
Chord er Oper Graz, Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester/Marius Burkert
rec. Oper Graz, 2016
German libretto (excl. the spoken dialogue) enclosed. CPO555 070-2 [49:11 + 36:35]
I imagine that most of my readers have, if nothing else by coincidence, heard Komm mit mir in’s Chambre séparée and probably been enchanted by the sweet melody. I first heard it, as far as I remember, in the early 1970s on an LP with the legendary Elisabeth Schumann – and then I was caught. Browsing through my not inconsiderable collection of operetta music I found dozens of recordings of this piece, as solo songs, mostly, and as duets – but not one other piece of music by Richard Heuberger. So it was with rather low expectations I started listening to this brand new recording. I was, literary overwhelmed from beginning to end. Here was a lively, expertly orchestrated overture, of the potpourri kind, and pretty soon the Chambre séparée popped up – as expected. But well before that there had been several catchy melodies, and for every new musical number during the entire operetta there were new gems. I was stunned.
Before I continue my eulogy I will present the composer, who probably is little known to many. Born in 1850 in Graz in Austria he had no inclination for music and studied to engineer. Not until 1876, when he had already turned 25, did he change direction and studied at the conservatory in his hometown. He then went to Vienna, where he became leader and conductor of several choirs and also started teaching at the conservatory. He also devoted himself to music criticism and, maybe surprising, championed the new musical currents around the turn of the century, Zemlinsky, Mahler and, not least Schönberg. In return Zemlinsky assisted him when he composed Der Opernball, and it is possible that the homogeneity of the music and the orchestration emanates from his younger friend (Zemlinsky was born in 1871).
The story may not be the most original among operetta librettos. I quote the synopsis from Franz Mailer’s liner notes: “It’s Carnival time, and Paul Aubier and his wife Angèle are visiting Georges and Marguérite Duménil in Paris. During their stay, Marguérite convinces Angèle to test the fidelity of their husbands, and they decide to use the Paris Opera Ball as the venue for the experiment. Marguérite and Angèle send identical notes to their husbands, which invite each man to a rendezvous with a mysterious beauty wearing a pink domino. Secretly, Hortense, the chambermaid for the Duménil family, sends a third invitation to naval cadet Henri – and slips on a pink domino. Under the pretence of attending to urgent business matters, Paul and Georges tell their wives that they must depart Paris immediately. Instead of leaving, however, they don their finest suits and hurry off to the Opera Ball. There, they begin the hunt for their pink dominos, and the evening descends into utter chaos. The following morning, no one has any idea who has been with who, let alone when or where … Although they all suspect each other of having been unfaithful, Hortense ultimately receives the blame for everything that has taken place.”
If you think this is too obscene for your taste, you can just throw the libretto away and just enjoy the music with eyes wide shut. I should mention, however, that this recording, based on an actual production at Opera Graz and that the original libretto has been rewritten by Peter Lund. To what degree I don’t know, but the musical numbers, several of them, have been allocated in a different order from the original score, for dramaturgic reasons. This matters very little for those who don’t know the original. The libretto is printed in the booklet, but only in German and the spoken dialogue is not included – a pity for those who are less than fluent in German.
Most of the musical numbers are ensembles of some kind: duets, trios, quartets and larger ensembles for the act I and II finales. Within these ensembles there is, however, generous opportunities for the individual role characters to burst out in solos and there is a wealth of lovely melodies and quite original, inventive songs. Georges has a beautiful tune in the first duet (CD 1 tr. 2) Man lebt nur einmal in der Welt; within the Paris-Lied (CD 1 tr. 4) has a refrain worth savouring: Überall, überall ist es schön in der Welt; Henri sings in the duettino with Hortense (CD 1 tr. 6) Hab’ daheim ein Schätzelein and Georges again in the quartet (CD 1 tr. 8) sings Willst du etwas Weibliches wie man sagt “gewinnen”. The second act opens charming chorus (CD 2 tr. 1) and then follows the high-spot, the extended duet with Henri and Hortense that ends up in the Chambre séparée (CD 2 tr. 2). In the finale of the act there is a string of pearls of lovely melodies and also some convincing contrapuntal writing, quite advanced for an operetta. Marguérite and Angèle have a riveting duet in the third act (CD 2 tr. 8) and the short final song is a nice waltz. This is an entirely charming melodious operetta worth anyone’s acquaintance – and best of all: the singing is soooo good! There isn’t a sour tone anywhere and no one overtaxes his/her voice. The chorus and orchestra are excellent and the recording ditto. For once it is a studio production and one is spared the stamping feet and banging doors of so many live recordings. That the production comes from Graz, Heuberger’s home town, is a further reason for rejoicing.
Operetta lovers, and they are not yet an extinct species, shouldn’t hesitate. They will be in for a real treat!
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