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Johann STRAUSS (1825 – 1899)
Eine Nacht in Venedig
In the musical version by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Herzog Guido von Urbino – Lothar Odinius (tenor)
Bartolomeo Delaqua – Götz Zemann (bass)
Barbara Delaqua – Elisabeth Pratscher (soprano)
Annina – Elena Puszra (soubrette)
Caramello – Alexander Geller (tenor buffo)
Pappacoda – Ivan Oreščanin (baritone)
Ciboletta – Sieglinde Feldhofer (soprano)
Agricola Barbaruccio – Stefanie Hierlmeier (alto)
Constantia Testaccio – Dominika Blazek (mezzo-soprano)
Herold – Sangyeon Chae (baritone)
Chor der Oper Graz
Grazer Philharmoniker/Marius Burkert
rec. 2018, Oper Graz, Austria
Synopsis enclosed
CPO 555 235-2 [78:20]

It is, I believe, well-known by now that Eine Nacht in Venedig was a flop at the world premiere in Berlin on 3 October 1883. All his previous operettas had premiered at Theater an der Wien but personal reasons – his second wife Lily had a liaison with the director of the theatre and Strauss then turned elsewhere and it happened to be Berlin. It wasn’t booed but meowed by the audience, due to a deplorable line in the lagoon waltz: Nachts sind die Katzen so grau, schreien dann zärtlich Miau (At night the cats are so grey, then tenderly they cry ‘meow’), which caused a meow serenade from the balcony. Berliner Tageblatt described it as “the Duke’s Lagoon Yodel” and the text was changed next day and gradually the production became moderately successful. It reached Vienna a week later, and there it was to everybody’s taste. It spread all over the Habsburg monarchy and elsewhere, including New York, but it never settled as a repertoire work and the reason was the messy libretto. It was not until 1923 that it got a new lease of life, thanks to Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Here is his story from 1933: “When I was asked to conduct Eine Nacht in Venedig at Theater an der Wien in 1923, I had only one goal – to execute the operetta as well as possible in the spirit of its creator with a modern appeal. With only this intention in mind, I began to polish the instrumentation and make the sound zestier. I removed the weaker numbers and replaced them with stronger pieces by Strauss. I made a real Richard Tauber part out of a small tenor role and I made my influence known on the book and the staging – and by the time the premiere came, it was suddenly a truly new version. Since then it has been played on more than one hundred stages, in opera houses in Berlin, Vienna, Frankfurt, Monte Carlo and Cologne, creating the start of an official Johann Strauss renaissance.”

This first production in Theater an der Wien in 1923 also was the start of Richard Tauber as operetta singer. He went on to become the most famous operetta tenor of his time and his cooperation with Franz Lehár is legendary.

It has to be said that the story is far from straightforward also in this version and when performed without the spoken dialogue, no texts and a synopsis without cue-points the listener’s situation can be compared to a car-driver travelling in an unknown area without a GPS. Of course one can enjoy the scenery, the buildings, the people, but this particular operetta takes place in Venice (no streets!) and mostly at night when “all the cats are grey”. What’s to do? Don’t care a damn about the story, it will be okay in the end, and just enjoy the music. If you are new to Eine Nacht in Venedig you will soon find that here are melodies of great beauty and riveting dance rhythms. If you are a jaded operetta fan you know from the beginning what will come and then your question will be: Is the singing good?

I can’t answer with an unqualified “yes”. Lothar Odinius, the Duke, the only singer I knew, has lost much of his ingratiating mellowness from ten years ago, which would have been ideal for this Tauber role. He has retained his stylishness and expressive phrasing and in the quartet Ninana, Ninana (tr. 17) he is at his best. But his entrance song Sei mir gegrüsst (tr. 8) is strained and the tone is worn. Ivan Oreščanin’s Pappacoda is a charmer and Alexander Geller’s Caramello is both entertaining and sings well. The notorious Lagoon Waltz (without “meows”) (tr. 21) is beautifully executed. Of the ladies Elena Puszta’s Annina is a bit shrill but Sieglinde Feldhofer is an attractive Ciboletta and Stefanie Hierlmeier sports a fine alto in the role of Agricola.

The chorus and orchestra are good, Marius Burkert leads the proceedings with obvious delight and the recording is excellent. Obviously it was set down at Opera Graz but not during actual performances.

There have been a number of recordings of this operetta, and I have two favourites from days of old. In quite acceptable mono sound is Otto Ackermann’s 1954 recording (Naxos) with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicolai Gedda, Erich Kunz and others. A stereo remake was done 1967, conducted by Franz Allers. Gedda was again the Duke and he was surrounded by Rita Streich, Anneliese Rothenberger and Hermann Prey. Both are starry performances with Gedda more authoritative in the later recording where also the sonics are preferable. Those who want world-class singing are advised to choose either of these two. On its own, without comparison, the new CPO can be a satisfying alternative.

Göran Forsling

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