August 17, 2006

(++++) EVA -- VIVA!

Lehár: Eva. Morenike Fadayomi and Zora Antonic, sopranos; Reinhard Alessandri and Gerhard Balluch, tenors; Thomas Malik, buffo tenor; Thomas Zisterer, baritone; Chor des Lehár Festival Bad Ischl and Franz Lehár-Orchester conducted by Wolfgang Bozic. CPO. $33.99 (2 CDs).

     Here is wonderful music in a marvelous performance, restoring to the catalogue one of the best pre-World War I operettas by Franz Lehár after an absence of decades.  This is a strong (++++) musical event in every way – despite a presentation flaw that English speakers will surely find irritating.

     This is really the complete 1911 operetta, including the dialogue – of which there is quite a bit, both in speaking parts and in melodramas, with music playing behind the words.  It is more than two hours of fascinating (if somewhat dated) plotting by the same team of Alfred Maria Wilner and Robert Bodanzky that created the clever Der Graf von Luxemburg, which premiered two years before Eva.

     The problem, if you are not fluent in German, is that there is no libretto provided with the two-CD set – and no information on how to get one, either online or by ordering it from somewhere.  Eva is a complex work, with several intertwined themes, and those who speak only English, or have limited German, will be frustrated to have it back in the catalogue in a form that they will be unable to appreciate fully.

     But the music – anyone can appreciate that, and revel in it.  It is of the amazingly tuneful type that Lehár turned out with apparent ease for Die Lustige Witwe and several of its successors.  Everything sounds and feels like a dance, and it is almost impossible to finish listening to Eva without picking up a tune or two to hum to yourself later.

     In some ways, this work (like Der Graf von Luxemburg) seems designed specifically to capture the audiences that loved Die Lustige Witwe.  Eva reflects the super-popular earlier operetta in both subtle and less-subtle ways.  Subtle: the name Dagobert, mentioned briefly in the earlier work, plays a big role here, and Restaurant Maxim, which was so important to Danilo and Hanna, is briefly referred to in this tale of Octave and Eva.  Less subtle: the music itself is highly reminiscent of the sounds of Die Lustige Witwe, there are plenty of grisettes (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) present in Eva, and the attraction of the Parisian social whirl is as central to this work as to its more-famous predecessor.

     But Eva is very much its own operetta, for better and worse.  It is a Cinderella story – the characters actually make repeated references to their lives as a fairy tale and to Eva as a Cinderella figure.  But Eva is set firmly in the industrial age: its subtitle is Das Fabriksmädel, “The Factory Girl.”  It even includes a brief scene of workers rising up against their boss – a subject that was highly topical in 1911, with Marxism much discussed and soon to assume control of Russia, but that now seems rather overdone and dated.  The eventual happy ending is oddly contrived: to stop the rebellion of the workers, who are Eva’s protectors (she is a sort of “daughter of the regiment,” factory style), factory owner Octave (Reinhard Alessandri) falsely says he is engaged to her – but he only becomes serious about her a full act later, after Eva has fled to Paris and begun living the life of a demimondaine.  Lehár’s happy ending spares Eva the fate of Verdi’s Violetta, but the whole romance has a false ring to it – except for the utter sincerity and extraordinary beauty of the music.

     And what music it is!  The main waltz from Eva is still heard in concert from time to time, and there is gorgeous love music (however insincere the sentiments seem to be), and rollicking party and Parisian tunes, and some heady coloratura turns both by Eva (Morenike Fadayomi) and by Pipsi (Zora Antonic), the Parisian sophisticate who eventually takes Eva under her wing.  Pipsi and Dagobert (Thomas Malik) are the nominal second couple of the operetta, but Pipsi has had a previous fling with Prunelles (Thomas Zisterer) and has no problem renewing it from time to time.  The result is a level of endorsement of amoral, if not immoral, behavior that makes the sincerity of the main love story in Eva somewhat hard to accept.  But the music is so lovely that one is tempted to agree to anything.

     For all the delights of this performance, the libretto issue is a vexing one.  CPO has in the past produced outstanding recordings of other Lehár works, including complete libretti both for full-length works, such as Zigeunerliebe, and for one-act operettas, such as Frühling.  English speakers who try to follow the multi-tiered three-act Eva through only a brief summary of the action are certain to be frustrated.  Eva is wonderful in many ways; so is this recording.  It would be extra-wonderful if, in the future, CPO finds a way to include dual-language libretti with all its Lehár recordings – or at least to make such libretti available separately to Lehár devotees.

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