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Franz Lehar: Schoen ist die Welt
26 Sep 2006

LEHAR: Schön is die Welt

CPO has recently given us a lot of wonderful Lehar recordings like Eva, Der Rastelbinder or Der Sterngucker (admired by Hofmannsthal who exclaimed after a performance: ‘I wish, Lehar had composed Rosenkavalier’).

Franz Lehar: Schön ist die Welt

Elena Mosuç, Zoran Todorovich, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks und Münchner Rundfunkorchester, Ulf Schirmer (cond.).

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Some of these recordings are from radio sources or made in collaboration with German broadcasting companies as this performance of Schön ist die Welt, originally produced at Bavarian Radio. Contrary to the aforementioned operettas this issue comes in with one disadvantage: very stiff competition. On the inexpensive Walhall label there is a fine 1954 performance with Schock and Schlemm and above all (on different labels) there is the magnificent 1942 performance conducted by the composer himself. And that last performance has such eminent singers as the young Anton Dermota, the best Mozart tenor before the advent of Wunderlich, and the admirable Adele Kern, a great Zerbinetta, Sophie and Despina. And to top it all we are lucky to have the creators of this version of the operetta (there was an earlier version ‘Endlich allein’) Gitta Alpar and Richard Tauber in the most important arias. And as everybody knows, Lehar didn’t only tailor his roles to Tauber’s voice, he even allowed the gifted tenor to make some compositional suggestions, too, so we sometimes don’t know for sure where Lehar finished and Tauber took over.

In short, this means that this modern version is up to formidable competition. Of course it is good to hear Lehar’s rich and luscious orchestration like the pastoral motive at the start of the second act which consists of one long love duet; Lehar’s not so subtle hint at Tristan. And the orchestra, ably conducted by Ulf Schirmer, has the necessary ‘schwung’ often more found by eclectic radio orchestras than with great symphonic ensembles who ‘deign’ to steep down a step. But in the end the singers will decide the issue and I don’t think they can compete with their predecessors.

Every operetta cliché is to be found in this 1930 version (the first 1914 one was more original) and this includes a second couple. It is somewhat strange that Bavarian Radio didn’t have the money or didn’t take the pains to engage the right singers for the part but simply asked the two main singers to double in these roles. Now even Tauber was not above recording a few of the songs of the second couple in a Lehar operetta but I doubt he would have sung that second tenor role as well on a complete recording (he didn’t in his movie recording of Das Land des Lächelns) as this makes dramatic nonsense of the whole operetta. The second couple has to have an extra dose of lightness and charm which is definitely lacking with tenor Zoran Todorovich. To put it plainly, he is somewhat a fly in the ointment. Tauber, Dermota and even Schock were fine Mozart tenors and they brought their art to Lehar. Todorovich is a Pollione, a Turiddu (and not a good one at Amsterdam) and the voice is not only too heavy, too charmless and too strident with some ugly fermata but it lacks sweetness, pianissimi and above all an exemplary legato. Every bawler with a few decibels can more or less succeed in ‘Recondita armonia’ but will fall through in Lehar as his operettas will never tolerate just decibels but need lightness and impeccable knitting of beautiful tone; indeed, only the best of Mozart singing will do.

Elena Mosuç is better than her male partner though she, too, was not born in the operetta tradition. She has behind her an impressive amount of Lucias, Olympias, Donna Annas and Violettas and the voice is no longer as fresh as some years ago. At the beginning of the recording there is a wobble that slowly disappears during the recording. She is at her very best in the great aria ‘ich bin verliebt’ where she modulates her voice very well and sings with charm and conviction, proving too that she has studied the role while listening to Adele Kerns elder recording as she uses the same effects. As the second soprano she makes less heavy weather of her role than does Todorovich. But I wonder who decided to change her tango song ‘Mein Buenos Aires’ into a ‘Rio de Janeiro’. Maybe the words are easier to sing but the Brazilian city was not known as the world capital of tango as did the Argentinean capital.

Jan Neckers

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