28 Oct 2006


My father was a small bit player in an amateur operetta company from 1947 till 1963 when the company folded.

Operetta was still so popular that there were two amateur companies, competing with each other in our small provincial Flemish town. As soon as I could read, one of my tasks was to rehearse my father’s lines with him. I remember my amazement that such a famous composer as Lehar would situate a work like Eva in Brussels. Years later I was sure this was updating by the company as none of the names had a Dutch ring to it. And I was even more amazed when I discovered that Brussels indeed is the place the libretto-writers wanted, though in reality they had Paris in mind (where indeed act 3 takes place). But, as they didn’t like to be accused of copying Die Lustige Witwe, they simply moved the plot somewhat more northern.

And finally and almost unbelievably, 95 years after its successful première, there is a complete recording. Up to now we had to do with some very old 10-inch highlights and a 60-minute LP (transferred unto CD) with Alfredo Kraus as Octave. Not a bad version, though the Spanish makes it somewhat sound like a zarzuela and soprano Ana Maria Olares is not a joy to hear. This new complete German version has forty minutes more music and includes a half hour of dialogue as well (still a very shortened version). One is immediately struck by one thing: the lusciousness of Lehar’s orchestration. After the First World War one of the accusations levelled at Lehar was that he was an imitator of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. Eva (and Zigeunerliebe) premièred in the same year as Rosenkavalier and therefore it is highly improbable Lehar took a few leaves out of the Strauss-book.

Unlike many another recent CPO recording, this is not a radio performance but a souvenir of the Lehar festival in Bad Ischl (Austria) where Lehar had a sumptuous villa and composed a lot of his operettas. The Lehar villa nowadays is a museum. The difference with recordings like ‘Schön ist die Welt’ is striking. All singers have operatic voices as well but they have operetta experience under their belt too. Morenike Fadayomi may not be on a par with Pilar Lorengar (who is ?) or Lucia Popp. But, she has a nice full lyric and a free top and she successfully copes with ‘Im heillichem Dämmer’, Eva’s big solo and a hauntingly beautiful melody — maybe Lehar’s greatest tune for soprano.

Reinhard Alessandri as the tenor is a surprise: at last an incisive and charming Austrian tenore lirico and finally a successor to Adolf Dallapozza. Alessandri sings Mozart, Lortzing and Puccini but Oscar Straus and Lehar are in his repertoire too. He has the lightness of touch, the ‘schwung’ a real operetta tenor needs though this is no buffo sound.

A classic operetta has a second couple or even a trio and Lehar always provided generous music for them. As the operetta tradition died out, often good actors but bad singers succeeded in spoiling many a wonderful recording (dour Harry Friedauer in Das Land des Lächelns with Gedda and Rothenberger is a prime example.) I’m happy to report that Zora Antonic is a lovely second soprano (she has sung Adalgisa) and that Thomas Zisterer and Thomas Malik sing their roles instead of whispering of just saying. Wolfgang Bozic is an experienced conductor with an ad hoc orchestra that knows its Lehar and fully proves Eva to be one of the maestro’s great scores.

Jan Neckers

Lehár: Eva