June 08, 2006


Lehár: Schön ist die Welt.  Elena Mosuc, soprano; Zoran Todorovich, tenor; Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks and Münchner Rundfunkorchester conducted by Ulf Schirmer. CPO. $16.99.

     It is hard to count Franz Lehár’s operas, because he so frequently cannibalized them and turned them into retitled works.  Thus, although Schön ist die Welt (variously translated as “How Fair the World,” “Fair Is the World,” “The World Is Lovely,” etc.) dates to 1930, and has a book and lyrics by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner, it is really a reworking of Endlich Allein (“Alone at Last”), which Lehár wrote in 1914 to a book and lyrics by A.M. Willner and Robert Bodanzky.  In Endlich Allein, an eccentric and wealthy American girl named Dolly is going to marry an impoverished and rather dim Count – until she goes mountain climbing with a guide who turns out to be a Baron in disguise, and the two fall deeply in love after an avalanche traps them on the mountainside overnight.  Dolly’s entrance song, which establishes her initially flighty character, is Schön ist die Welt.

     By 1930, Lehár had been working for several years with Richard Tauber, and decided when redoing Endlich Allein to give the song Schön ist die Welt to his favored tenor.  So the new (or semi-new) opera’s title tune, which runs like a leitmotif through all three acts, becomes a pronouncement on beauty rather than the lighthearted song of a dilettante.

     The overall plot changes mainly by eliminating the role of the Count.  In Schön ist die Welt, a Princess is pledged to a Crown Prince she has never met.  At the grand hotel where she is to meet him, she sees a young man who had helped her fix a flat tire on the road (this is one of numerous modernizations of story details).  The man – the Crown Prince in disguise – says he is a guide, and he takes the Princess up the mountain, where the avalanche and falling-in-love parts of the plot occur as before.  At the end, each realizes who the other is, and the operetta ends happily.

     But Schön ist die Welt feels like an operetta only in its first and third acts.  The central second act, most of whose music is in two lengthy through-composed sections, is one of Lehár’s most operatic productions, and was wisely carried over nearly intact from Endlich Allein.  This act makes more vocal demands of the singers than Lehár usually does; and structurally and musically, the act bears more than a passing resemblance to the second, Liebsnacht act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.  Lehár is coyer than Wagner, keeping his couple chaste but yearning throughout the action.  But the music hints at what happens after the curtain falls.

     Schön ist die Welt is sadly neglected today, despite its unusually deep second act, several memorable waltzes, a delightful rumba (a brand-new dance in 1930), and two really excellent arias: the title song and the soprano’s third-act coloratura aria, Ich bin verliebt.  Elena Mosuc and Zoran Todorovich handle their roles with relish and emotional intensity on this recording, and Ulf Schirmer – who will become music director of the Munich Radio Orchestra this fall – conducts with verve and spirit.  Except for one very odd flaw, this recording ought to bring Schön ist die Welt a whole new round of popularity.

     The flaw is not in the music but in CPO’s presentation.  Usually among the best labels at producing useful booklets and libretti, CPO falls far short here.  There is not even a track list, not even a list of timings of the various segments – much less a libretto.  The single CD presents all the music of the work but none of the dialogue – an acceptable approach if listeners can at least follow what is offered.  Unless you speak moderately fluent German, you will be unable to do so here.  A synopsis does explain what is going on during each track, more or less, but it is neither accurate enough nor extensive enough to take the place of a libretto.  And how long has it been since a CD was released without a track list and track timings?

     CPO can do much better – and, in the past, invariably has.  For example, its single-CD release of Lehár’s Frühling, a one-act operetta and altogether lesser work than Schön ist die Welt, contained a complete libretto.  Hopefully this packaging is an aberration, and CPO will do better when it releases additional neglected Lehár works – of which there are many, even if they are hard to number.  For now, collectors can at least rejoice that Schön ist die Welt is available in such a beautifully sung, beautifully played and beautifully recorded edition as this.

No comments:

Post a Comment