Live Aus Der Semperoper: Lehar Gala From Dresden
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Christian Thielemann s affinity with the works of Beethoven, Bruckner and Wagner is so well known and his performances of their music so universally acclaimed that not a few observers were surprised when he turned his attention to the world of operetta at the 2010 New Year s Eve Concert. But a selection of numbers from Franz Lehár s classic operetta The Merry Widow allowed him to acknowledge an old love which he has felt since his early years as a conductor. This is firstrate music, he insists, yet it is some of the most difficult to perform because of its quintessential blend of sophistication and joviality. His plan worked out, and the New Year s Eve Concert from Gottfried Semper s opera house delighted audiences not only in Dresden but also others watching it on their television screens at home. According to the Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten, seriousness of purpose and concentration on the music conspired with a very real delight in performing this music and even with a sense of risk to produce a veritable string of pearls, each of which was a musical jewel in its own right .
In the light of the success of the first New Year s Eve Concert from Dresden, it became clear that in 2011, too, Lehár s music should be central to the programme. After all, this music seems almost predestined for end-of-year festivities. The master of the Silver Age of Operetta is known not only for a musical language that shimmers with chic sophistication and infectious verve but also for holding up a mirror to society in works such as The Merry Widow, The Land of Smiles and The Czarevich, all of which reflect the ironies and ambiguities of that age. The presentage is called into question and the chaos that lies in wait just round the corner is tested in the form of a game an ideal combination for New Year s Eve, when we leave the old year behind us and abandon ourselves to the euphoria of the moment in order to see the world with new eyes the very next day.
Such a delightful balancing act naturally requires top-flight singers and for his 2011 Lehár Gala, Christian Thielemann found them in Angela Denoke, Ana Maria Labin and Piotr Beczala. Denoke and Beczala are two of the most sought-after singers on the international stage today. And both have particularly expressive and brilliant voices. The young Romanian soprano Ana Maria Labin is still at the beginning of her international career but has already been acclaimed in The Merry Widow at La Scala, Milan. Joining them onstage is the Dresden State Opera Chorus, whose members have already demonstrated their gifts in the field of operetta in repertory performances for the company.
In advance of the concert, Thielemann said that he saw it as his duty to free operetta from its musty reputation , and the programme for his New Year s Eve Concert offered the best possible preconditions for this, allowing us to admire Lehár as a composer of immense variety by featuring excerpts from early masterpieces such as Der Göttergatte, The Count of Luxembourg, Gypsy Love (a tribute to Lehár s Hungarian origins) and Eva alongside highlights from his later successes, Paganini, The Land of Smiles, The Czarevich, Friederike and his final work for the stage, Giuditta, which received its first performance at the Vienna State Opera in 1934 the only operetta by Lehár to be premiered by the company. The programme includes not only hit numbers such as Freunde, das Leben ist lebenswert , Gern hab ich die Frau n geküsst and, as an encore, Dein ist mein ganzes Herz but also rarities and orchestral gems not often encountered in such altogether outstanding performances. These tenor hits have a particularly close connection with Dresden, for Lehár wrote them for Richard Tauber, who during the First World War held the title of Royal Court Opera Singer at the Dresden
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The music: Most (but not all) of this concert features the music of Franz Lehar ( you think that Germans would have a New Year's concert without some of the Strauss boys' waltzes??) Lehar, once he had started composing for tenor Richard Tauber (What?? You draw a blank on that name?? Go immediately to the CD Dept. and order a couple of his discs! He was a remarkable singer.)produced music that drew from all the Strauss guys, including Richard and Johann Sr. and the sons. This disc contains several orchestral pieces by Lehar as well as the vocal works, and the Straussian influence is quite clear there. I know that the operettas on stage define schmalz, but a bit of sentiment in our hectic world might be a dose of the good thing, IMHO. But the tunes offered here are meltingly lovely.
The singers: here we have two sopranos, both unknown to me before experiencing this performance, and tenor Piotr Beczala, with whom I was familiar. Angela Denoke's first song is ""Liebe, du Himmel auf Erden" and she does well with it. She should have warmed up a bit more, because some of her early notes are a bit tenuous. The second soprano is Ana Maria Labin whose rendition of "Ich bin verliebt" is simply superb. Beczala is first rate throughout, and his rendition of "Dien ist mein ganzes Hertz" brings down the house, albeit in a well behaved and reserved Germanic fashion. Maestro Thielemann, a noted Wagner interpreter, prove that he can conduct the more melodic and heart warming fare offered on this disc.
Disc quality is what I have come to expect from DGG: clear and crisp picture and DTS sound that will be culturally enhancing to my neighbors once it warms up and I can open windows. One caveat: while the video of the performers is excellent, there seems to be a need on the part of the German video techies to add a color filter to pics of the audience. Maybe it's a form of schmalz that I don't understand, but it can be a bit of a distraction to have that blue fog come up. (Why there is a need to pan the audience at all is a question that someone at DGG might address.)
In sum, this is a dandy performance of many well known and beloved operetta gems that will enjoy many playings here. I think that you will enjoy it, too. If you keep the sound down and the windows closed, you can enjoy wallowing in operetta and no one else will know. Unless you do a review.
Thielemann, who is an ardent believer in operetta, is joined by sopranos Angela Denoke and Ana Maria Labin plus tenor Piotr Beczala. All three of these soloists clearly enjoy Lehar's music and this communicates well to the packed audience. The two most experienced singers, Denoke and Beczala, perform well in their duets together as well as in their solo arias. Both display a total ease with the genre which greatly adds to the occasion. Ana Labin sings her solos with absolute security and her top range rings thrillingly around the hall with apparent ease. No wonder she is in increasing demand at this relatively early stage in her career.
One of the joys of the concert is to hear the music played so well by a really top flight orchestra. They get four chances to play without accompanying the singers in addition to the final waltz, Strauss' An der Elbe, which is obviously going to be a regular finale item for all such future concerts. The chorus also rises well to the occasion although they have relatively little to do, this being a night that belongs mainly to the soloists.
The ballet company also gets a star spot and on this occasion they are introduced by watch a delightful young girl apparently leaving her mother on the rear row of the stalls to go through the swing doors. Here she meets members of the ballet and is able to watch and ever so slightly join in towards the end of the piece. At this point she returns to her 'mother.' This entire section makes for a delightfully imaginative and charming section of the concert. The dancing itself follows much the same format as the well-known Viennese version within the New Year's Day concerts and is excellently done.
The repertoire itself includes excerpts from Giuditta, Paganini, Der Graf von Luxemburg, Friederike, Land of Smiles, Der Gottergatte, Eva, Der Zarewitsch, Schon ist die Welt and Zigeunerliebe. The concert concludes with three non-Lehar items - an aria by Oscar Strauss, not related, plus a polka and the final waltz, as previously mentioned, by J. Strauss II.
The recording quality is clearly in HD and delivers excellent visuals of crispness and clarity with good colour definition. The equally fine soundtracks are presented in DTS 5.1 and stereo.
I would suggest that this very enjoyable concert warrants serious consideration by anyone interested in the repertoire and makes for a good continuation of the new Dresden 'tradition' started the previous year.
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