Festival Orchestra Mörbisch · Mörbisch Festival Choir
Rudolf Bibl, conductor
The Mörbisch Lake Festival now celebrates its 50th anniversary! And for this birthday, Maximilian Schell produces Johann Strauss’s last operetta, “Wiener Blut”, for the Burgenland open-air stage. Just in time for the begin of the festival season, OehmsClassics releases a studio recording of the live production with the original cast. The typically buoyant and floating Vienna waltz atmosphere has hardly ever been captured as well as in “Wiener Blut”. Rudolf Bibl, recognized maestro of the operetta sound, honorary member of the Wiener Volksoper and internationally in demand as conductor for the Strauss dynasty repertoire, is on the podium of the festival orchestra.
Operette in 3 Akten
The Mörbisch Lake Festival
von Victor Léon und Leo Stein
Für die Bühnen eingerichtet von Adolf Müller jun.
Musik von Johann Strauß
Festival Orchestra Mörbisch · Mörbisch Festival Choir
Rudolf Bibl, conductor
Bernhard Schneider, choirmaster
|Balduin Graf Zedlau
|Gabriele, seine Frau
This unique festival of operetta takes place each summer on one of the most beautiful open-air stages in Europe. The picturesque town of Mörbisch and the impressive natural scenery of the Neusiedler See provide a fitting
background in Northern Burgenland, 60 kilometers from Vienna. Under the direction of Professor Harald Serafin the festival enjoys an international reputation and has been estab-lished as a significant promotor of classical operetta. In the years 1997 and 1998 the sound and lighting systems have been thoroughly modernised at great extense, at the same time the public stand was extended and the capacity
increased to 6.000. The visitor to this festival has not only an excellent view of the stage from every seat, but can even see as far as the Hungarian countryside. Now numbering over 200.000 annually, the guests are treated to the unique acoustic and optical experience.
The high artistic standard in all areas has made the Mörbisch Lake Festival that which it is today: an internationally recognised
festival event and a must for all operetta fans – an operetta mecca!
The apotheosis of
the Viennese Spirit
This time, it’s not champagne that’s responsible
– but “Wiener Blut” (often translated as “Viennese Blood” or “Viennese Spirit” – which don’t, however, really do justice to the term! – translator’s note). Hot-bloodedness
as a justification? Doesn’t that sound more like Italian passion or at the very least, French gallantry?! No… because we are none other than Austrians of the k. & k. era, that is, “imperial and royal” – a pleasant mixture of all possible nationalities: frivolous, astute, with our hearts on the right side and blessed with a duly portion of wiliness.
The music of Wiener Blut was arranged. When in early 1899, Franz Jauner, director of Vienna’s Carl Theater, snatched away the premiere performance rights to a new Strauss operetta from the Theater an der Wien (he hoped this would save him from immanent financial ruin), the 74-year-old “Waltz King” no longer wanted to deal with the tiresome work on a further libretto. In addition, since Zigeunerbaron (1885), none of his operettas had succeeded in achieving such sweeping success. For this reason, what could be more evident than compiling a new stage work from Strauss’s many legendary dance compositions.
At the end of the 1890s, this plan began taking on true form. Even if Strauss himself seems to have had little interest in creating such a pastiche, he agreed to letting Adolf Müller jun. (1839–1901), composer and long-time kapellmeister at the theater, create the score. Strauss rummaged through the sheaves of music that had piled up in his villa and sent Müller whole basketfuls of old manuscripts.
Müller made an exceptionally astute selection of well known and forgotten works and assembled these in masterful fashion. To the benefit of the music, he retained the original instrumentation to the greatest extent possible, and only wrote – when necessary – decent transitions for the large ensemble scenes, making sure to use the corresponding
tone colors. Thanks to him, Wiener Blut sounds like an original Johann Strauss work, particularly because he had everything that the “Waltz King” seemed to have lost in his old age: a sense of the theatrical, a feeling for dramatic structure, a nose for effects and dodginess.
Wiener Blut does not take place in the Vienna of the times, i.e. the end of the 19th century,
but in the decorative past of the Vienna Congress, anno 1815. One sees in the demeanor
of many aristocrats that lively “swan song” to the monarchy that found its parenthetical continuation in the so-called “silver operetta age” after 1918.
Balduin Count Zedlau is torn between three women – all Viennese, but of different clas-ses. The envoy of the “operetta state” Reuss-
Schleiz-Greiz, a Don Juan-type character whose city of choice is Vienna, gets himself in more and more trouble as he tries to keep his amorous partners apart and conceal their identities from one another: his long-time spouse Gabriele, his long-term lover Franziska
Cagliari (dancer at the Vienna Kärntertortheater)
and his current conquest, model Pepi Pleininger. What the count does not know, however, is that Pepi is the sweetheart of his valet, Josef. But his valet – who likewise hasn’t a clue – even helps his master rendezvous
with her. The story doesn’t get really complicated, though, until the well-meaning Prime Minister of Reuss-Schleiz-Greiz, Prince Ypsheim-Gindelbach, makes a formal visit at an awkward time and mistakes wife and lover. Intent on ensuring a formal reconciliation that placates all sides, Ypsheim only creates more confusion. In Act 2, the confusion increases and becomes public at the brilliant diplomats’ ball held by Count Bitowski. Things finally get straightened out in Act 3, which takes place in the Hietzinger casino garden: temporarily
monogamized, Count Zedlau returns to his wife, Pepi and valet Josef are again a pair and Miss Cagliari now tries her luck with a slightly more relaxed Prime Minister. The restoration of the status quo is correspondingly clarified by the perfect Strauss waltzes at the operetta’s
conclusion. Almost like a hymn, this work, originally a concert piece, opus 354 from 1873, praises the particular “juice” of the title, “Vienna Blood”.
It is a riddle why reception of the premiere on October 26, 1899 was so lukewarm. Johann Strauss had died of pneumonia on June 3rd. The date of the premiere, one day after his 74th birthday, was slated as homage to the deceased
musical genius. All other guarantors of success had been calculated: magnificent furnishings combined with many of Strauss’s earworms. Director Jauner didn’t come to terms with this and committed suicide a short time later. No stage wanted to take over the work after it had been quickly gained a reputation
as a flop. Wiener Blut didn’t achieve its breakthrough until April 23, 1905 – and at all places, at the competition, the Theater an der Wien. Almost overnight, the work became one of Strauss’s most played works, after Fledermaus
Two skilled Viennese must have finally felt vindicated: the libretto-duo Victor Léon (né Viktor Hirschfeld) and Leo Stein (né Leo Rosenstein)
– who would later become Franz Lehár’s
preferred text authors. They succeeded in creating a sequence of events in Wiener Blut that lives from its unparalleled mistaken identity situations and the ensuing comedy. At the center of these are Prince Ypsheim-Gindelbach,
Prime Minister of the fictitious miniature
country of Reuss-Schleiz-Greiz, supposedly
located somewhere in Middle Germany. This character and his absolutely boundless naivety are the source of an ever knottier plot. For the standing of the Wilhelmine Empire in great parts of the Austrian population, it is symptomatic that Ypsheim is characterized as a German with a Saxon accent and certain moronic features. But there’s even hope for him in the end: the obstinate German moral apostle Ypsheim is transformed into a convinced
Viennese, as he considers continuing Count Zedlau’s liaison himself. Conversion to the expressly Viennese experience – the Wiener Blut – the Viennese Spirit – could not be demonstrated better.
Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler