Saturday, May 30, 2015

Eine Nacht in Venedig

I have now watched another Strauss II operetta -- Eine Nacht in Venedig (A night in Venice).  The piece premiered in 1883.  It  is said to be one of Strauss's three most recognisable stage works alongside Die Fledermaus and Der Zigeunerbaron so I have now watched all three. The setting is in the eighteenth-century. The performance I watched was a 1973 one directed by  Václav Kaslík.  It was a cinematic version using resources from Munich.

I read: "Late in 1881 Strauss began discussing a new operetta with F. Zell (pen name of Kamillo Walzel, 1829-1899) and Richard Genée (1823-1895). Walzel created the dialogue and Genée the song texts. Eine Nacht in Venedig received its première at the new Friedrich-Wilhelmstädtisches Theater in Berlin on October 3, 1883".

The story

The show is undoubtedly a classic farce -- worthy of Feydeau.  It was particularly good in the second half, with a kaleidoscope of improbable and amusing happenings.  

It's basically about infidelity, with the men being lecherous but the ladies triumphing in the end.  Infidelity has of course long been a theme in opera and operetta.  There is a lot of potential for laughs in it.  And this show is certainly light-hearted, making full use of absurdity for comic effect.  A good scene was when the fat old ladies accosted the duke in his bath.

The music is good, the singing is good, the acting is good and the ladies are good-looking but I didn't really like the plot.  It involved constant  lying to women, which I abhor.  Women hate being lied to and I just don't do it.  Women will put up with a lot as long as they trust the man concerned.  And I have probably got away with more by being honest than I would have done by lying.  I could give examples but that might be too much information.

And I don't claim any great virtue by being honest.  It is just how I am made.  By lying you are admitting that someone else's value system is superior to your own.  And I don't do that.  My Presbyterian upbringing probably contributes a little too.  I remember being given a good grounding in the Ten Commandments at Sunday school during my childhood:  "Thou shalt not bear false witness ..." etc.

The casting

I didn't much like Anton de Ridder as the Duke. He didn't look manly enough for that role in my view.  Though that is arguable, of course.  And his song Treu sein, das liegt mir nicht ("Being faithful does not suit me) did not endear him to me. I  was rather reconciled to him when I found that he did not get the girl, however. He was a good singer, anyway.

The actors did a generally good job of acting Italian.  I could at one point have sworn that "Caramello" was Neapolitan.  He even sang German with an Italian accent at times. But the singer concerned is "Jon Piso", who was born in 1926 in Brasov, Romania.  Both Romanians and Italians are descended from the Romans of old so they could have a lot in common. Piso was a powerful tenor, anyway, with his gondolier aria (Komm in die Gondel, mein Liebchen) being notable. There was a lot of good Strauss music in the show but that was probably the highlight.

One of the opening scenes -- of "Pappacoda", the macaroni cook, singing "Makkaroni, Makkaroni di Napoli!"

Pappacoda negotiating with Ciboletta

Italian gestures are a language of their own and after seeing "Pappacoda" (the macaroni cook) in action, I thought:  "That guy has GOT to be Italian".  And it seems he is, sort of. The singer was Cesare Curzi who was born on 14 October 1926 in San Francisco, California, of an Italian father who was also an operatic singer. His father must have been a good role-model across the board.

Erich Kunz does his elderly role well, as usual, and the ladies filled their push-up bras well. Push-up bras in the 18th century?  It's an anachronism but a forgiveable one. Julia Migenes as "Ciboletta" was particularly admirable in that department. And Sylvia Geszty played the "Annina" role well. "Ciboletta", incidentally, is the Italian name for chives (Schnittlauch in German).

Annina the fisher girl (Sylvia Geszty)

Other details

I didn't much like the occasional photographic tricks using distorted images the first time around but I saw the point of them as representing dreams the second time around.

The  "Pellegrina, rondinella" episode requires a bit of background.  It is an early 19th century sentimental Italian poem meaning "Pilgrim swallow". It is said to be the most famous ballad of Italian Romanticism.   Strauss set it in his own way for the show  but there are other settings.  The idea of the poem seems to be that the swallow is free to fly off after his mate but the speaker of the poem cannot.  The words are here if that summary is inadequate, which it may be. The point of Annina singing it seems to be that she is describing him as a migrating swallow -- i.e. unable to stick with one woman. 

Why paper aeroplanes (if that is what they are) are aimed at "Caramello" by "Annina" during the episode I have not yet figured out. There seems to be nothing online to enlighten me.  For this show I seem to be "It". 

Why the Duke sings "ninana ninana" repetitiously in order to seduce his ladies is also obscure.  It means nothing in German but my Dizionaria tascabile di Mondadori does however offer some enlightenment.  It is apparently an Italian word for "lullaby"!

The Duke, trying it on with "Annina"

Trudeliese Schmidt (Barbara).

A slight oddity is that the music is thoroughly Viennese.  I guess Strauss could write no other.  But the setting is after all in Italy and Italy has rich musical traditions so it seems a slight pity that some actual Italian or at least Italianate music was not included at some points. But it is still a bit odd to hear very Italian-looking people speaking German.  They even give a cheer as Hoch at one point.  I guess Forza was a bit much to expect.

The reason an Austrian operetta was set in Italy would seem to be a perception that morality is looser in Italy than it is in Austria.  I think that is only partly true. Italy just has different implicit rules, I think.  For instance, a man may have a mistress but he is still expected to be a good family man at the same time -- being congenial to the relatives, providing for his wife, caring for his children etc.  

Even Italy's great Fascist beast, Benito Mussolini, who definitely did have a mistress (they were executed together), would spend the night in a vigil beside the bed of his children if they were seriously ill: "Just like any Italian man", as Signora Mussolini said later. I have always liked Italians. I grew up in a place (Innisfail) where there were a lot of them.  So perhaps I understand them too.

But there was a lot happening in the operetta and most of the participants ended up getting what they wanted so the expected  ending -- with two happy couples set for matrimony -- was provided.  

Most of the show seems to be online here but the resolution is poor. Good for the music, though.

Friday, May 29, 2015


Last night I watched Kalman's Csardasfuerstin in a 1971 cinematic production directed by Miklos Szinetar and filmed on location at Budapest featuring Anna Moffo as the leading lady. The show first appeared in 1915 and appears to be set in the peaceful years just preceding that time.

The story

The plot is  on a familiar theme -- class distinctions.  Can a nobleman marry a showgirl?  It seems an insurmountable obstacle, particularly as the stepmother is most emphatic about its impossibility.  That role must have been well cast as I suspected from the outset that the stepmother was herself an ex-showgirl -- which is of course revealed at the end.  That revelation destroys the stepmother's objections so we end up with the two happy couples that we expect of operetta

 The ending has to be one of the best in operetta:  Lots of belly-laughs and great happiness all round.  The three old admirers bouncing along in a first-class railway carriage was a great scene.

A very small point:  Kalman in this show  has his leading lady singing passionately about her mountain home  -- which also happens in Benatzky's Im Weissen Roessl:  Surprising to me but perhaps not to others.  I actually grew up with mountains looming over me (Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker, since you ask) but I appear to be deficient in my adoration of mountains.  I rather liked the Gordonvale pyramid, though.

The cast

I was not much impressed by the casting.  Rene Kollo is a most distinguished tenor but his appearance in his early 30s in the show (he is now 77) as leading man looked inappropriate to me.  He had at that age rather effeminate and sullen looks IMHO.  I am used to big operetta productions featuring manly-looking men such as Herman Prey, Eberhard Waechter and Rodney Gilfry.  So it was a bit difficult to relate to his character. 

And although the late American soprano Anna Moffo was impeccable as both an actress and a singer, she looked lamentably flat-chested. So seeing her as an object of infatuation was difficult -- for me, anyway.  


Moffo on tour

I was not expecting such shapely singers as Zabine Kapfinger (Moerbisch 2008) and Ute Gfrerer (e.g. Zuerich, 2004), though.  I am for instance quite entranced by the very feminine Hamburg soprano Anja Katharina Wigger (e.g. at Moerbisch 2008) even though she is rather small in the bust, but she does have SOME bust. 


And the 1973 cinematic version of "Eine Nacht in Venedig" with Václav Kaslík as Intendant managed to find three ladies who filled push-up bras very well.  Operetta does need good visuals in my opinion.

There is no doubt that Moffo performed brilliantly.  She matched  her facial expressions and body language to the situation very well throughout.  I think her American background was very enabling when she expressed cynicism.  As a non-American, I may perhaps be in a position to note that American women are exceptionally cynical.  They are of course cynical for good reason.  American men lie so often to them.

And Moffo's singing was impeccable, of course -- a strong and faultless voice. And she was a lively dancer too.

But Dagmar Koller was the outstanding dancer.  She did some very good high kicks in Wiener Blut but in the climax of this show she was everywhere, everyway and singing as well. She was however led by "Boni" (Sandor Nemeth) who could almost be described as a dancing machine -- hugely energetic, flexible, creative and lots of other adjectives. But she matched him.  Very impressive.

Dagmar Koller as the second-string lady  portrayed a good-looking and nice-natured lady very well.  The scene where she immediately says Aber ja ("Of course")  to a very rushed marriage proposal is amusing. 

I do think that in operetta looks are more important than in grand opera and the more minor characters were in this case very well cast. The Prince (Karl Schönböck) looked very princely and was given very wise lines -- always agreeing with his wife, sort of.  

And Miska the servant (Zoltán Latinovits) was a  triumph.  He got a lot of the laughs.  His inability to reply with anything but "Jawohl Durchlaucht" ("Very well highness") was a classic.  I liked his heel-clicking too.

The character of Oberleutnant von Rohnsdorff was well played and I was surprised that the character was not much developed.  It could have been fun. His Roman style army helmet was impressive.  I initially thought it was just an operatic joke but it appears that the Austro-Hungarian army officers did indeed wear such helmets. It certainly leaves the Prussian Pickelhaube for dead.

Given the time in which it was set, I was a little surprised (but pleased) that so many of the ladies appeared in mini-skirts.  But in 1971 such skirts were in full fashion so it was the fashion of the day in which the show was performed that prevailed. Pleasing!

Other details

Kalman's music was of course good but no particular song stayed with me.  The story was about a cabaret singer so the cabaret singing in the show was appropriate but I was glad there was some operatic singing too.  With great singers such as Moffo and Rene Kollo on stage that had to be.  There was a LOT of singing and dancing, which probably accounts, in part, for the popularity of the work. It was particularly popular in the former Soviet Union, though that may have been because of the social class issue.

I was a bit puzzled by the title of the show.  I expected a mighty Csardas at some point in the show but it was not to be. It seems that "Csardas" is being used as a polite synonym for gypsy and that all showgirls are regarded as gypsies.  So the reference is to a gypsy singer who eventually  became a princesss.  Pretty obscure.

Something that pleased me was the attempt made to re-create the motor vehicles of 1915.  They looked quite grand though I doubt that they were precise replicas of any actual model from the past.

"Jawohl" is an emphatic form of agreement in German.  You hear it a lot in operetta.  My long-ago High School German teacher (who was actually a Ukrainian) told me that the term had fallen out of favour in the military but I don't know if that still prevails. "Durchlaucht" is a princely title of a slightly lower rank than "Hoheit" (Highness). It had become rather common among the Austro/Hungarian nobility at the beginning of the 20th century

The more I watch Austro/Hungarian operetta, the more I feel that it sounds so much better in German. German sounds a more serious language or something.  I even think and mutter to myself in German (probably not very good German) for a while after I have been watching it.

The original German is sometimes much more amusing than the subtitles.  It is very succinct when the Prince refers to his marriage as "bekamm ich ihr".  It's a somewhat disillusioned expression that could perfectly well be expressed as "I got her" but it was translated rather supinely in the subtitles as "I married her".  It DID sound better in German.

There is a libretto here, with the usual caveat that performances differ.

The whole show is online here.  No subtitles.  You can see one of the motor vehicles at around the 54 minute mark

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Der Bettelstudent

I recently watched the 2013 offering from Moerbisch, "Das größte Operettenfestival der Welt am Neusiedler See im österreichischen Burgenland" set in in Poland of 1704, as the show itself tells us.  It was written in 1882. I noted that Moerbisch have their own ballet company, as well as their own choir and orchestra -- up with the NY Met. So they obviously deserve the fulsome description of them that I have just given.  

It was a performance of the popular Bettelstudent by Carl Millöcker.  It was the first performance at Moerbisch with Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin.  She got that job as from 1. September 2012.  She was of course delighted to be so honoured. "Ich freue mich wahnsinnig" ("I am insanely delighted"), she said in her exuberant way when her appointment was announced.  She looked very tense in interviews leading up to the performance though.  She shouldn't have worried.  She did well. 

I note that she is described as KS Dagmar Schellenberger. I do know what that stands for:  Kammersängerin -- chamber singer.  She is now formally referred to as Frau KS Dagmar Schellenberger.  It is an honorific title given to very distinguished singers of operas or operetta but I am not sure by whom it was awarded.  Dagmar certainly deserves it at any event.  I know that the Austrian culture minister awards the title in Austria so maybe culture ministers in the various German states also award it.  With her many performances throughout the German lands, Schellenberger could have got the title from various sources.  She SHOULD have got it from her native Saxony but as the Bible tells us, "A prophet hath no honour in his own country" (John 4:44) -- so maybe it was left to Austria to do the honours.

The show

The performance had a lot in common with Gilbert & Sullivan.  About the first third of it was quite madcap.  I could have done without the big wigs and absurd gowns on the women but that was of course part of the comic setting.  I note that Harald Serafin also put women into wide gowns and absurd wigs on occasions so Schellenberger was within Moerbisch custom in what she did. I thought that it made the women look like beetles but the audience seemed to like it so I concede defeat on that point.

The gowns

The plot was typical operetta nonsense, complete with with deceptions and misunderstandings.  There was even TWO purloined letters.  No valuable pocket watches this time though.  So the plot lived up to expectations -- with some good twists towards the end

And the expected romance was also there -- though only in the second half. And the resolution of all difficulties at the end was also the expected operetta ending, but with a twist.  Instead of the lovers getting married, they were already married by that time! 

A good show.   I  see that it has been performed over 5,000 times since 1882.

The singers

I was particularly impressed by the very confident singing of Austrian soprano Cornelia Zink (as Laura) but with her elaborate costume and clownish makeup it was hard to see much of the woman behind the voice.  From the closeups of her face that we got, however, one could see that her facial expressions were very fitting.   I would have liked her to have got the sort of closeups that Schellenberger got at Moerbisch in 2004.  Even in the grotesque deshabille scene one did not get much of an impression of her.  So I am putting up a better picture of her below.  As I expected,  she looks good.

She is a doll!  Though she should pay more attention to her roots.

And the lady in the second string story did well too. Daniela Kalin (Bronislava) does not appear to be well-known but somehow transcended her garb and came over as a very attractive lady. We saw quite a lot of her in the deshasbille scene so that would have helped.  She reminded me of A.K. Wigger, which is high praise from me.  I predict she will go far.  Schellenberger obviously knows talent when she sees it (or hears it).

A very romantic show in the end and great fun for that.  I was sad that there was no big applause for anyone in particular at the end of the show.  I thought Zink deserved more.  The Saxon Oberst (Milko Milev) deserved more too. His was an unsympathetic part but he played it very well.

Zink in full voice

With her fake Prince

Some general reflections

After my first watching of the show, for subsequent viewings I did my usual trick of skipping the first few tracks and that got me straight into the interesting bit, which I really enjoyed.  

It's not always true but operetta performances often start with boring bits, partly for scene-setting purposes, I guess. The scene of men dressed up as ducks and dogs that introduced the 2004 Moerbisch performance of Graefin Maritza was particularly absurd.  I don't know what Harald Serafin had in mind when he put that on but I very nearly stopped watching the show at that point.  Maybe I missed a brilliant allegory but there was just no point to it that I could see.

A small absurd touch that I did enjoy in Bettelstudent, I missed the first time around:  The fake Prince arrives in a sedan chair to the sound of a steam train!  I really like the Moerbisch steam train (Heck!  I like ALL steam trains!) so even that allusion to it was pleasing.  Congratulations to whoever thought of that absurd idea.

A small thought.  The villains in Bettelstudent were Saxons.  As Schellenberger is a Saxon, I thought she might have changed that, but perhaps that would have been complicated. And why did they all have red hair?  A mark of villainy?

The Saxon soldiery with their "Oberst"

It was interesting that even in 1882 Millöcker was using speech "per du" for comic effect.  The whole custom seems needlessly complicated from an Anglo point of view.  I presume Millöcker wrote that segment.  It could have been a later interpolation, of course.

There was an odd bracket towards the end of the show commenting on the financial crisis among the  European banks in 2008+ but one rather wonders why.  The only message seemed to be that the little  guy gets shafted.  That is true but why did it need to be included in this show?  If it was meant to be humorous it missed its mark with the audience -- judged by applause.

A very small point that I should probably NOT mention is that the bishop in the wedding procession is emphatically portrayed as shaky -- as having Parkinson's disease, one imagines.  As politically incorrect as I am, I can see the funny side of that but many would not. Though respect for the clergy is very low in Western Europe generally these days so maybe the clergy could not complain. They have brought disrespect down on their own heads with various scandals.

Some personal reflections

I imagine that the market scene where the noble Polish ladies were too poor to order any food but potatoes was supposed to be funny but I found it a little disturbing.  In my early life I had very little money but I always managed it so that I could eat well.  In my late teens, for instance, I used on most evenings to walk into Tharenou Bros. Greek cafe in Roma St. (Brisbane) and order a meal of rump steak with salad for my Abendessen.  And, as a creature of habit, I enjoyed it every time.  I can even remember with satisfaction the buttered white bread I got with that dinner.  So to be unable to do anything like that seems very sad to me.

And the fact that the fake Prince went through 10,000 Thalers in a few days quite failed to impress me.  It was undoubtedly meant to be comic -- or even worthy of sympathy -- but it quite offended against my careful Presbyterian soul.

Just a very quick note in that connection:  Via Spain, the Imperial Thaler was the ancestor of the American dollar.  How so?  The German pronunciation of "Thaler" is almost identical to the American pronunciation of "dollar"

And I guess that this is rather mad but I actually concurred with the claim by the fake Prince that Polish women are the most beautiful women of all.  Eastern European women generally seem to have swept the field in getting rich husbands in Britain in recent years and the various women of Polish origin that I met in my younger days all rather bowled me over by their looks.  I am pleased to say that I even had one for a girlfriend for a time in those far-off days.  

Back in the '90s I saw a bit of a Polish friend named Janusz.  He had at the time only recently arrived in Australia.  He brought his wife with him but he was quietly disappointed with Australian women.  He said that in the streets of Poland a woman would often walk by who was so good looking that you had to stop and stare.  He had not had that experience in Australia.  The cool Polish climate is probably a lot more kind to skin than our sunny subtropical glare so that may be part of it.  But, aside from that, various Polish ladies I met did also seem to be most satisfactorily statuesque.

A birthday dinner

Jenny has just turned 39 (joking) so I shouted a Chinese dinner for her at her local Chinese restaurant.  It is one of the few restaurants where she can get the gluten-free foods that she needs. I had some good roast duck there.

Two of her children now live overseas -- at opposite ends of the earth but which  are nonetheless very similar places. Both of them are now very well-suited where they are so that is not going to change any time soon.  So the dinner was a small one -- Jenny, Nanna, Joe and myself.  I am pleased that Joe has no intention of leaving Brisbane again, though job opportunities might just change that.  Suz is putting something on for Jenny this weekend.

I allowed Jenny to choose her own birthday present, as I usually do.  She got herself a very impressive-looking food processing machine.  I imagine I might get some of what it produces on my plate some time.

We returned to Jenny's place for coffee and cakes afterward and continued the discussions.  Joe and I left around 9pm so Joe could get back to work on his university projects.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A good duck

The duck is a very tasty bird but most restaurants that serve it make a hash of it.  I have long said that the Chinese are the only people who know how to cook duck but even most of those are not good at it.  They can usually do a reasonable Peking duck but that is all.

For a long time the best place I knew for good duck was the Canton restaurant in Cairns.  Sadly, however, they eventually changed hands so when I last went there they served something that was nothing like what it used to be.

For a while now I have  been dining occasionally at the New Sing Sing, a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant at Buranda, next to the P.A. hospital.  I mainly started dining there because you can park in the big car-park just over the road.  But I found that whatever I ordered there was good. So when Anne and I were there last night, I decided to try their BBQ roast duck.  And, at last, I got duck in its tasty perfection.  And not terribly dear, either.

So if there any other duck fanciers reading this, now you know where to go.  The sauce is served on the side so you can leave it and just eat duck.  I did.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Beware of Neil Fallon electrical

My split system air-conditioning unit had stopped working so I asked Brisbane's Neil Fallon electrical to look at it.  The firm does advertise that it does repairs.

They charged me $232 to diagnose and quote on the fault -- all for an hour's work.  Work at that rate did not interest me so I sent the guy away immediately and gave the job of replacing the unit to someone else.  I think they outsmarted themselves there.

UPDATE:  I note that Fallons did give me a quote for a new installation -- of over $2,000.  The firm I finally gave the job to -- Brisbane Air are doing it for $500 less than that.  And I know from past experience that their work is high quality.  Instructive.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Der Graf von Luxemburg

This Singspiel was composed by Lehar in 1909 and was apparently set in his day.  The production I have is another cinematic version -- from 1972 -- with the late Erich Kunz as the big name -- he wielded a mean monocle! There are many versions of the show on YouTube.

I first watched it some months ago and thought so little of it that I wrote down no notes about it.  As all opera people know, however, the first viewing of anything operatic is merely an introduction to it.  You have to watch it several times to  get the best out of it.  And this show is perhaps an extreme example of that.  I enjoyed it greatly when I watched it again recently. 

I think I know why I was not enthusiastic about the show when I first saw it.  It opened with a prolonged hymn of praise for financial folly  -- which did not suit my careful Presbyterian soul at all at all.  To me it was idiocy. I have however become used to introductory scenes in operetta that are best fast-forwarded so I discounted that this time.

If people get the impression that I spend half my time watching operettas these days they are right -- I do spend 2 or 3 hours watching them every night.  My day would not be complete otherwise.  I read and write serious stuff during the day so watching operetta before bedtime  rounds out my day.  

The story

The story is about a profligate aristocrat (played by the Austrian  baritone Eberhard Wächter) and the strange marriage arrangements he enters into to restore his finances.

And there is also of course a second string story -- about an impoverished painter and his marriage-seeking girlfriend

The painter's girlfriend, little Helga Papouschek, played well and scrubbed up well.  She has been described as a "vielseitige Schauspielerin und Sängerin".  I can see that.  She portrayed a number of moods convincingly.

And the best aria (IMHO) came from the "second string" story -- "Schauen Sie freundlichst mich an", where the artist and his nervous lover reassure one another.  They really made a very suitable couple.  It puzzles me why they  spoke per "Sie" (formal) rather than per "du" (informal), though. Something to do with tensions between them at that time, I guess.  On earlier occasions they do speak per "du"

There are quite a lot of jokes in the show but you have to be attuned to them.  I found the dropped-glove episode hilarious in its corniness, for instance. And it was an amusing touch when the unflappable Graf who had unwittingly disrespected his donor on being introduced to him simply replied Sehr angenehm ("pleased to meet you") on being apprised of his mistake.

Early in the show (around the 7 minute mark online) you can see quite a bit of an attractive barmaid with a well-filled blouse whom I thought might have been mentioned in the credits -- but she was not.  A barmaid dancing with a prince is a very low-probability event -- but this is operetta.  I love it.

And, as seems common in operetta, alcohol is something of a star.  Mostly it was skolling Schnapps in this case but we did get around to the champagne eventually. And the birdbath cut-glass champagne glasses they used in the end are just like the old-fashioned ones that I have.  I don't agree with the fashion for champagne flutes at all at all.  Very inelegant.

The plot is typical operetta absurdity, though notes accompanying  the DVD suggest that similar things did happen in real life  at the time.  And the ending was very much as one expects of operetta, with THREE happy couples getting married.  After having watched two operettas that violated that formula -- Paganini and Zarewitsch, it was a welcome return to form.  

In summary:  A great romance with a marvellously happy ending. I liked the way the baritone's lady mostly looked and sang over his shoulder after they had accepted one-another. She looked best in those later scenes in my undoubtedly wicked opinion. She looks better happy.  They certainly made a most convincing couple.  I would be moderately surprised if he did not get into her pants after hours.

The cast

Erich Kunz played Basil, the Polish Prince and delegate to the Austrian Reichsrat.  He of course does the part very convincingly, as indeed do all the singers.  The costumes were all well done -- with very big hats on the ladies at times and big and very luxurious-looking sable collars on the coats worn by the men.

Erich Kunz gets his girl

The leading soprano, the long-necked Lilian Sukis, of Lithuanian origins, is now an old lady in her mid-70s but had a  lily-like and languid attractiveness in this performance.  She was particularly associated with the Bavarian State Opera in her day.  She was both an excellent soprano and a beautiful woman.  Hard to  beat!

The leading man was the late Eberhard Wächter, an Austrian baritone of some distinction in his day, though he was new to me. That he became Intendant of the Wiener Staatsoper is a considerable recognition of his artistry.  I did like his looks -- almost hypermasculine, with a big heavy head and a strong jaw.  It's a characteristic I have seen in other big male parts in operettas.  Having such characteristics is clearly an advantage in getting good parts in operetta.  I think of Rodney Gilfry in my copy of Die Lustige Witwe and Rainhard Fendrich in my copy of Im weissen Roessl as other examples of that. And they all get the girl!  

So this was a show with a beautiful woman in the lead and a very  handsome man! Definitely easy on the eye.  That is a big plus in operetta, IMHO.

Wächter with Sukis

Wächter sang and acted very well, at any event. I am sad that he is deceased. He was a magnificent presence. He was undoubtedly the star of the show. He was somewhat more expressive than his lady, in my opinion, though she had a powerful line in rapt gazes. The later very romantic parts were especially well done.  They had convincing sincerity.  It was a love-at-first-sight story but since both members of the couple were good-looking, that has some plausibility.  His "come-to-me" look towards the end after his lady had unwittingly insulted him was quite brilliant.  It got him the girl too. So everyone ended up happy, in true operetta style.

Seeing other people happy makes me happy -- unlike the Leftist Gore Vidal, who said: "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little".  What a mess of a man!  I am pleased to say that over the years I have been able to make small contributions to the happiness of others. Ecclesiastes 11:1 is my guide, though you may need your minister to explain it to you.


I  did not relate terribly well to the second string story about an impoverished painter, probably because extreme poverty is alien to me.  In my youth I had very little money but I was always able to manage it so that I ate well. I well remember when my weekly income (in the very early '60s) was £2/7/6. You have to be old to understand what that means.  

But, thanks to my Italian-Australian friend, Dino Tenni, I had at that time Northern Italian peasant "soup" (sweet milky coffee with bread and an egg or two broken into it) for breakfast every day (and you wonder why I still have warm feelings about Italians?) and lots of "punkin" (pumpkin) with the evening meal.  The English feed pumpkin to their animals but it is a popular vegetable in Australia.  Anne still feeds it to me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Der Zarewitsch

I have now watched Lehar's Zarewitsch a couple of times and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It is phenomenally romantic. It doesn't have any terribly memorable arias in it but they are good while they last. The show first appeared in 1927.

The version I have is another cinematic performance from 1973 directed by Rabenault; conductor Willy Mattes.

I was most impressed by the performance of Cretan soprano Teresa Stratas.  She really threw herself into the part and gave a mighty performance as a very emotional "Sonja". Maybe her Greek background helped with the emotionality.  She really makes the show in this production.

The lovers in the clip above -- not embeddable

I am not alone in my admiration for her talent.  She is an old lady now but she went on to a very distinguished operatic career,  becoming something of a fixture at the NY Met.

The show differs from most operettas in that everybody doesn't get married at the end of it but the sustained romanticism throughout the show rather compensates for that.  And there is a definite suggestion that the lovers have not seen the last of one-another.

The parting

All operettas seem to need a second story running alongside the main story and the story about Ivan and Mascha fulfils that role in this show.  And their story does provide some good light relief.  Casting a bass as Ivan was very effective.  From what I have seen, most women would forgive a bass a lot and Mascha does have a lot to forgive.  There was some clever casting of "Ivan" there. Harald Juhnke was primarily a comic actor rather than an operatic singer but the role was a comic one and he was excellent at it.

And casting Birke Bruck as Mascha was well done too.  She is/was undoubtedly a good-looking lady and her fury when she was envying the statue was wonderfully and hilariously done.

I was rather pleased with myself that I recognized the refuge of the lovers as being in Greece.  Now that I have read the notes that came with the DVD, I see that Greece was intended.

And a very Viennese touch was the extended celebration of champagne at one point.  There is a big celebration of champagne in Fledermaus too.

A premodern feature that I noted in Zigeunerbaron also was the attitude to the military.  The Zarewitsch rejoices when he is sent back to his regiment.  Only conservatives would understand that in this day and age. Our Prince Harry must be a conservative. He had very happy days in the army. As indeed did I. Army men do indeed generally like being in the army.  They like the army as much as they dislike the army top brass.  Such is the complex world we live in.

The intense romanticism of the show does help me to understand  why it has been performed and recorded so many, many times.  I do not consider myself at all romantic but I am an undoubted sentimentalist  -- and part of that is that the happiness of others makes me happy.  And operetta is full of happiness.

I don't have the libretto for the show but somewhere early in it, the leading lady is looking for a man she can give her life to!  I love it!  The wrecks of humanity that are feminists would hate it but it does seem to be part of life.  Romance does exist, rare though it may be.  And in operetta we enter that wonderful world.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Der Zigeunerbaron

It's sad that the Austro-Hungarian empire died in 1918.  It lasted a thousand years, you know. It was known for most of its life as the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation (though, as some wit once remarked, it was neither holy nor Roman.  And most of it wasn't German either).  There is a lot of recollection of the Austro-Hungarian empire in operetta, however. Most operettas are set somewhere in it.

I have recently obtained the Stuttgart version of Strauss II's 1885  Zigeunerbaron (Gypsy Baron) operetta, set in Hungary.  And the Stuttgart version is lightyears better than Harald Serafin's 2011 Moerbisch version.  That 2011 production at Moerbisch was rather sad.  It was Serafin's second last year as Intendant (artistic director) there.  So it was sad that he did not go out on a better note.  He did a lot for operetta generally and Moerbisch in particular during his long tenure there.  Purists did not like his rather cinematic productions but the huge floating stage (3500 sq. m.) and hi-tech facilities at Moerbisch made that possible -- and what he did with it certainly got the audiences in.

The Stuttgart version is quite an old production -- dating back to 1975 -- but has recently been put onto DVD.  And one can see why.  It is an excellent interpretation and was obviously long remembered as such.  So somebody has got out the old studio tapes and remastered it for DVD.  I am pleased they did.

This version is a cinematic one rather than a stage version so wide interpretive opportunities were available to the director.   The director was the Austrian Arthur Maria Rabenalt. The conductor was Kurt Eichhorn. Both men are now long deceased.

And Rabenalt was not slow to adapt the show.  Some things were  extended and others cut back.  I could have done without the long introduction.  And I do.  I use the little button on my DVD machine to skip that track.

A mildly amusing aspect of the production is that the ladies in the opera, who are old ladies now (Ellen Shade is my age!), can be seen in the freshness of their youth.  Janet Perry (playing Arsena) looks quite pretty in fact.  But I actually liked the looks of Ellen Shade best.  Her face had character; and she had a stonger voice too.  And she was very convincing in her role as Saffi.  Both ladies are famous American sopranos who have been everywhere and sung everything.

Ellen Shade

But the casting triumph of the show was undoubtedly making Ivan Rebroff the villainous pig-farmer.  He was a  a comic triumph.

I suspect that he is just naturally a funny man.  His red-faced rage at the rejection of his daughter has to be seen to be believed.  What an actor!  And he figures well in the later part of the show in connection with the war. The pig-farmer role is a big one in any production but he makes it huge. He even manages to be funny as a Hungarian Hussar.

Never have I seen such magnificent shakos as we see in the recruitment scene! The shako is little used as military headgear these days but some French troops still wear it.  Example below:

I imagine that Leftists would be horrified by the militarism and patriotism of the latter part of the show but it all ends up as a marvellous romance so pity them!

The music is by Strauss II so is marvellous.  The best track is undoubtedly the justly famous "Als flotter Geist" ("As a lively  spirit"). As is often the case in translation from German, there is no one good translation of "flotter", but we do what we can.  So I give the whole libretto of that part in German below, followed by a non-literal translation into English as re-worked by Ann Ronell. She produces something singable very well. And it does broadly reflect the original -- though the chorus is totally unrelated to the German chorus.

A few small updates:  I have rather immersed myself in the show in recent days.  I have seen it many times courtesy of my trusty DVD player.  So I have found myself occasionally saying to myself "Ist nicht schwer" rather a lot.  That's the only part of the chorus to Als flotter Geist that I remember so far.

I am impressed that an industrial city like Stuttgart has such a lot of facilities for opera.  But it is towards the South of the German lands so I suspect that helps.  The South is the origin of most German music.  Though Brahms was a Hamburger! (I crack that joke over and over.  Most people get it pretty quickly).

I was impressed by the performance of Graf Homonay. His lines are often real tongue-twisters -- really rapid-fire.  I couldn't say them to save myself.  So I eventually looked up who was playing him.  It was Wolfgang Brendel -- who is of course a very prominent baritone.  He deserves his fame.

Something I found curious about Ellen Shade (Saffi) was that her features were rather immobile -- a great contrast with the very mobile Dagmar Schellenberger.  But Shade had a particular role that suited her.  Her role was as someone sincere and intense rather than as someone clever and volatile -- and her rather still face did give a good impression of intensity.  She was well cast. I enjoyed watching her.


Als flotter Geist, doch früh verwaist,
Hab' ich die halbe Welt durchreist,
Factotum war ich erst, und wie!
Bei einer grande ménagerie!
Vom Wallfisch bis zum Goldfasan
Ist mir das Thierreich unterthan:
Es schmeichelt mir die Klapperschlange,
Das Nashorn streichelt mir die Wange,
Der Löwe kriecht vor mir im Sand,[4]
Der Tiger frißt mir aus der Hand,
»Per Du« bin ich mit der Hyäne,
Dem Krokodil reiß' ich die Zähne,
Der Elefant mengt in der Schüssel
Mir den Salat mit seinem Rüssel –

Ja, das Alles auf Ehr,
Das kann ich und noch mehr,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer – ist's nicht schwer!
Ja, das Alles auf Ehr',
Das kann er und noch mehr,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer!

Mit Raritäten reist' ich dann
Als Akrobat und Wundermann,
Bis ich zuletzt Gehilfe gar
Bei einem Hexenmeister war!
In meinem schwarzen Zauberkreis
Citir' ich Geister dutzendweis'
Bin passionirter Feuerfresser,
Und zur Verdauung schluck' ich Messer, –
Ich balancir' wie Japanesen,
Changire – noch nicht dagewesen!
In Kartenkünsten bin ich groß,
Im Volteschlagen grandios!
Ich bin ein Zaub'rer von Bedeutung
Und Die Aermel aufschürzend.

Alles ohne Vorbereitung!
Ja, Changeur und Jongleur,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer – ist's nicht schwer!
Ja, Changeur und Jongleur,
Wenn man's kann ungefähr,
Ist's nicht schwer – ist's nicht schwer!


My history has made me train wild animals but I'm more famed
Because I've really trained myself to be as spry as any elf
The circus life taught me a lot, now the circus is finished but I'm not
For I'm not afraid to potter round the dark
I'll breakfast on tomorrow's question mark
Adventure is in my blood why any lion could smell it well
But I always hold the whip and I'll never let it slip
Whatever comes I'll take the good and send the rest to hell

Roaming free as the breeze
What's to stop me and why?
I can live as I please
Open road, open sky

My lion taming acting was enough to create quite a buzz
From Timbuctu to Samarkand I wowed them in the hinterland
I was king of the king of the beasts on the stage
Why the public wouldn't let me out of my cage
They loved it when the lions licked my paws
And I got the lion's share of their applause
I follow with the bold and the brave when the bold are gone
Whatever I wish I'll be when the wish appeals to me
For there's a thing worth more than gold
My creed! I must go!

There are many versions of the show online

Friday, May 8, 2015

A whole kilo!

With help from Joe, I started a weight-loss diet last July.  I went on a diet of Joe's devising.  He has weight issues himself so is knowledgeable about such things.  The diet worked.  I lost ten kilos up to December.  But then, with the help of Christmas, I plateaued.  I couldn't stick with the system rigorously enough to lose any more weight.

So lately I have been experimenting with a system that takes into account how things work for me personally.  I have always been a TWO meals a day person.  I normally don't need lunch.  Anne tells me that her son Warren is the same.  Just breakfast and dinner are enough.

The big danger, however, are snacks, particularly late-night snacks.  And I have long been a big drinker of softdrink.  Joe is addicted to flavoured milk and I am addicted to softdrink.  So our vices are similar.  So what I have been doing is cutting back on the snacks and the drinks.  And by cutting out nearly all of that I am making progress.  Last week I lost half a kilo --  and my scales tell me this morning that I have lost a WHOLE kilo this week.  That is the most I have ever lost in one week so I feel I should celebrate -- maybe a caramel malted milk!  (Just kidding).

I was in fact so surprised at what my electronic scales said this morning that I had to get out my little torch and shine it on the readout to make sure I was not misreading it!  No wonder my strides have been tending to fall off in the last few days!

So I have two good meals a day, which I enjoy, and I can still lose weight!  It's very simple and could make me rather envied by some, I imagine.  But it would be unlikely to suit many other people  -- maybe Joe. He has been trying something similar.  And one of my meals this week was a Mosburger with chips and peach tea!  Very yummy.  Japanese know how to make hamburgers  -- and much else besides. Mosburgers have umami.