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Johann Strauss: Das Spitzentuch der Königin
11 Oct 2009

Johann Strauss: Das Spitzentuch der Königin

Dear non-German speaking Opera Today reader — what's your first guess as to the meaning of the biggest word in the title of this obscure Johann Strauss operetta?

Johann Strauss: Das Spitzentuch der Königin

Nadja Stefanoff, Jessica Glatte, Elke Kottmair, Ralf Simon, Markus Liske, Hary Brachmann, Gritt Gnauck, Chor & Orchester der Staatsoperette Dresden, Ernst Theis

CPO 777 406-2 [2CDs]

$34.98  Click to buy

Wrong! The “spitzentuch” of Das Spitzentuch der Königin turns out to be a lace handkerchief, which belongs to a queen. The plot synopsis relates a tale of dubious complexity, built around not only the spitzentuch but a truffle pastry that sabotages a honeymoon, as well as Miguel Cervantes in disguise as an innkeeper. Even with dialogue the two CDs in this CPO set don’t reach 95 minutes in length, and how all the story gets told in that time prompts more curiosity than the tale itself.

So CPO would have done just as well to cut the dialogue and produce a one-CD set of the music, because this is Strauss at his best — ridiculously tuneful and irresistibly toe-tapping. The booklet essays by Ernst Theis (who also conducts the Staatsoperette Dresden) and André Meyer, while stuffed with background detail, make unwarranted and extravagant claims. This is no “forgotten masterpiece.” If, as they both suggest, the libretto let the work down when it first premiered, it continues to do so. But the music! Strauss built one of his most famous pieces, “Roses from the South,” from the score, but there are many delights. Just program your player to omit the dialogue and get ready to kick up your heels.

Ernst Theis obviously loves this music, but he respects it as well — the performance dances, of course, but it also finds the sweetness in the occasional lyric moment. The cast come off as experienced operetta performers, if not the finest singers imaginable. Jessica Glatte sings the Königin of the title. By her booklet photograph she looks the part. The voice, however, tends to warble and lose color at the top. The König is a pants role, and mezzo Nadja Stefanoff gets one of Strauss’s great tunes, which she delivers with more enthusiasm than flair. Tenor Ralf Simon gets another instantly familiar tune in the romanze of Cervantes in act two. He does just well enough to make one wish one could hear a recording of Fritz Wunderlich in the same number.

Some less than ideal vocalizing, however, cannot seriously dampen the charm of the piece. Grab onto this Königin’s spitzentuch for a very pleasant hour — minus the dialogue.

Chris Mullins

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