Strauss: Der Carneval In Rom (The Carnival In Rome) / Theis, Ma-Zach, Glatte, Heim, Dresden Staatsoperette

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J. STRAUSS II Der Carneval in Rom Ernst Theis, cond; Isabella Ma-Zach ( Marie ); Michael Heim ( Arthur ); Jessica Glatte ( Countess Falconi ); Manfred Equiluz ( Count Falconi ); Marcus Günzel ( Hesse ); Bernd Könnes ( Rafaeli ); Dresden St Op O & Ch CPO 777 405-2 (2 CDs: 95:47) Live: Dresden 2008

Johann Strauss Junior’s second operetta, Der Carneval in Rom, premiered in 1873 only one year before Die Fledermaus, and while the music is enjoyable enough, with several nice tunes, there is little in the score to presage the gorilla blockbuster soon to come. For one thing, Strauss wrote the music in the more romantic style of light opera because the work was originally scheduled to be mounted at the Vienna court opera, a place of more serious mien than the Theater an der Wien, then the home of the comic-oriented Viennese operetta. When it turned out the production had to be premiered at the latter venue, Vienna’s reigning Waltz King found himself with a score full of choruses and ensembles, few of his signature waltz melodies but plenty of sprightly polka rhythms. In fact, Strauss referred to Der Carneval in Rom as his “polka opera.”

The story is typically slight. Marie, a young girl living in a rural village high in the Alps, longs for her beloved Arthur, a painter who has gone to Rome to make a living, and she decides to go after him. When she arrives in Rome, in the midst of preparations for Carnival, she discovers Arthur is making a living selling spurious religious relics and is more interested in chasing the flirtatious Countess Falconi than in doing much painting. Marie approaches Arthur disguised as a boy and persuades him to take her on as his apprentice. Arthur is too busy planning assignations with the wayward Countess under the very nose of the perpetually jealous Count to pay much attention to Marie. After a couple of typical light-opera mistaken-identity encounters during the love trysts (think Le Nozze di Figaro ) involving Arthur, the Countess, and Marie, the young painter finally recognizes his true love from the mountains, and they pledge their eternal devotion as the Carnival erupts joyfully around them at the finale.

This 2008 recording of Der Carneval in Rom by the German label cpo is virtually a world first. At one time there was a quite ancient RCA LP of only the musical numbers from a 1936 German revival, but this is the first modern CD set and the first with any dialogue. The spoken parts may be cut, without libretto or score I cannot tell, but there is certainly enough there to provide the story clearly to German-speaking listeners, and I believe the original music is all present and accounted for, based on a newly issued critical edition. The producers have even added back in a “lost” coloratura aria for the Countess, which Strauss added to the production a few days after the first night. To its credit, cpo has also recently given us a world premiere of Strauss’s Das Spitzentuch der Konigen (reviewed favorably in Fanfare 33:4 by Christopher Williams) and is planning to release another first-timer, Prinz Methusalen , which they have already recorded. It seems incredible that there are still unrecorded stage works by this iconic Viennese master and one sincerely hopes cpo has the interest and the resources to eventually do them all.

The Dresden State Operetta Orchestra, under the direction of principal conductor Ernst Theis, and its chorus are both better than good and two of the strongest features of this recording. German and Austrian musicians seem to have Strauss’s feather-light, quicksilver music bubbling in their blood; they are the finest in the world at reproducing it. The sound recording is also first-rate, with absolutely no audience noise on a so-called live performance. The singing is solid if not spectacular by artists active in regional German houses and elsewhere. The only holdover from Das Spitzentuch is lyric soprano Jessica Glatte. Here she sings the role of the Countess Falconi, doing a quite credible job of the difficult coloratura aria “Gefangen trauern,” added by the composer when the winds of faint praise were presumably beginning to waft over the production. Glatte is good elsewhere as well, playing the bitchy and bewitching Countess as if she owns the role and adding a sparking top to several well-sung ensembles. The Marie, soprano Isabella Ma-Zach, sometimes goes wandering in search of a note here and there, but is generally pretty good; she renders Strauss’s romantic music for the young Alpine lover in a manner most often quite well sung and pleasurable to the ear. Marie’s entrance aria in the first act became a hit for the original cast’s superstar, Marie Geistinger, a Vienna favorite in the mid 19th century, and Ma-Zach carries it off well here, showing us why the piece gained such widespread popularity. The men are solid also, the Arthur of Michael Heim and the Count of Manfred Equiluz both sung quite competently. Bernd Könnes, in the role of the painter Rafaeli, exhibits a vocal wobble more like a bleat, hard on the ear, but fortunately the part is not very big. As in several other Strauss operettas the cast is large, and the remaining singers here perform quite well.

The booklet is first-rate, with a track-keyed synopsis, extended essays, and synopses in German, English, and French. The English translations are sometimes a bit dicky and I’m bothered a little more than fellow reviewer Williams by the lack of libretto and translation, but this set is a must-have for all J. Strauss fans and operetta lovers as well. We may never see its like again.

FANFARE: Bill White

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777405-2

  • UPC: 761203740529

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Johann Strauss Jr.

  • Conductor: Ernst Theis

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Dresden State Opera Chorus, Dresden State Opera Orchestra

  • Performer: Bernd Koennes, Isabella Ma-zach, Jessica Glatte, Manfred Equiluz, Marcus Guenzel, Michael Heim