Festival Orchestra Mörbisch · Mörbisch Festival Choir · Rudolf Bibl, conductor
Michael Suttner · Alfred Sramek · Marika Lichter · Marko Kathol · Ruth Ohlmann
Ana-Maria Labin · Stephan Paryla · Franz Leitner · Johannes Beck
The Mörbisch Lake Festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year! The major operetta festival in Burgenland, Austria has long become a must-see for operetta lovers. This year, Franz Lehár’s “Graf von Luxemburg” is on the program. It originally premiered in 1909 at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. The following 300 performances cemented its success throughout the world. Melodies like the waltz “Lieber Freund, man greift nicht nach den Sternen” and “Bist Du’s, lachendes Glück” or the song “Mädel klein, Mädel fein” have become evergreens of classic operetta. As every year, OehmsClassics releases a studio-made recording of the live production with the original cast.
Inexorably homing in on their beloved
Was Lehár on drugs?” This – serious – question posed by contemporary music students to their conducting professor, an avowed operetta fan, is significant. Have the fine values of human existence on which Franz Lehár’s rich musical imagination rests become so aesthetically foreign to us?
But it’s much less the magical, on-stage fantasy that makes Lehár’s increasingly operatic-
tragic oeuvre so attractive than the constant
addition of a wise recognition of human foibles. A seeming need to escape the world often reveals itself to be precise observation of man’s behavior and character instead. And for this, the composer didn’t need any drugs...
The structural element in Der Graf von Luxemburg
is destiny – here carried to extremes: two people who don’t know that they are married
to each other meet and fall in love at first glance. How can this absurd situation be? The wedding ceremony had taken place three months previous in a painter’s atelier and was only pro forma. Separated by an easel, the
bridal pair married and then left without laying eyes on one another.
The setting: Paris, circa 1900. The main figures
are the opera singer Angèle Didier, who needs a title of nobility before her patron, old Prince Basil Basilovich can officially wed her, and the vivacious Count of Luxembourg, René, who is constantly short on funds. The prince offers him 500,000 francs to act as Angèle’s legal
husband for three months – the only condition
is that he may not go near her under any conditions.
But as fate will have it, René sees Angèle at her last concert and falls in love with her immediately. Without knowing who she is, he courts her; she is also not adverse. But as soon as they find out who the other one is, their indignation about the fake wedding is great. Nonetheless, love and passion are stronger than reason. But according to their contract with Prince Basil, they must separate.
At this point, Countess Stasa Kokozov appears
on the scene. Not only is she much closer to Basil’s age, he had once asked for her hand in marriage, and the Czar wishes that he keep his promise. With none of the weakness
one might surmise in a noblewoman of her age, Stasa cuts through the seemingly inextricable dramatic knot: while searching
for Angèle, Basil lands in the arms of his (un)desired betrothed.
Not only does René get his word of honour back, he also finds out that the confiscation of his lands has been revoked. This enables him to repay Prince Basilovich the 500,000 francs. And yet a third pair sashays down the church aisle as well – after many detours, painter Armand
and his model Juliette. Armand had provided
the backdrop for the fictitious wedding of Angèle and René, and until now had not been in the mood to marry under any circumstances.
The Vienna premiere of this work on November
12, 1909 was met with tumultuous applause; the following 300 performances cemented its success throughout the world. The libretto by Alfred Maria Willner, Robert Bodanzky and Leo Stein offered the ideal basis
for Lehár’s composing skills: Paris as a musical
background, Carneval, glittering parties, the Bohemian milieu and a yearning for love wherever one looked.
To hear that Lehár finished the operetta in only three weeks and then deprecated it with the (private) remark “Sloppy work, completely worthless!”, one can only be amazed at what he accomplished. The result is an impressive score alternating between lyrical and tempestuous
numbers and captivating ensemble scenes, just as successful today as then.
The work, its imagination, musical conciseness,
dramatic characterization and distinctive
harmonic and instrumental colour make it an equal of the four years older Merry Widow. And it was to be expected that the audience at the premiere of the Graf von Luxemburg would consider the work as a sort of continuation of Lehár’s previously most famous operetta. Both works are connected thematically by the collision
of wealth and doubtful marriages; musically
by the collision of a Parisian accent and Slavic counter-impressions.
How Lehár not only takes up the musical thread of the Lustige Witwe, but carries it off in another direction, is particularly clear in the dance rhythms – here, none other than in the waltz. The Valse moderato of “Lippen schweigen” was the exception in the earlier work. Here, it is the rule in the musical cooing between Angèle and René as they inexorably home in on each other – defeating all hurdles of masks and pseudonyms, obstructions and calculation placed in their path.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler