October 08, 2020


Lehár: Cloclo. Sieglinde Feldhofer, Gerd Vogel, Susanna Hirschler, Ricardo Frenzel Baudisch, Daniel Jenz, Matthias Störmer, Frank Voß; Chor des Lehár Festivals Bad Ischl and Franz-Lehár Orchestra conducted by Marius Burkert. CPO. $33.99 (2 CDs).

     There was a lot more to Franz Lehár than Die lustige Witwe, and the Lehár Festival Bad Ischl is on a determined course to explore just how much more, reviving a wide variety of the composer’s very-rarely-heard works and presenting them with enthusiasm. Lehár was a far more versatile composer than he is usually credited with being, creating – in addition to sonatas, marches, waltzes and symphonic poems – stage works that go far beyond the traditional notion of operetta, and indeed are rather difficult to describe without coming up with new terms to characterize them. Sort-of operettas with sad endings, almost-musical-comedies, operas that are not quite operas – Lehár wrote them all, including six (from 1925 to 1934) specifically to highlight the voice of tenor Richard Tauber, whose training was operatic rather than in anything lighter. The first “Tauber work” was Paganini (1925), and it marked several new directions for Lehár in its focus on the fictionalized life of a famous historical character (later works in the same vein include Der Zarewitsch and Friederike) and in its less-than-upbeat conclusion. While composing Paganini, Lehár almost literally bade goodbye to the lighter comedic fare with which he had been so successful: he interspersed the composition of Paganini with work on Cloclo, which was first performed in 1924 and was to be his final work in his older, frothier style.

     So obscure is Cloclo that it apparently had not been staged since 1971 when the Lehár Festival Bad Ischl put on performances in 2019 – renditions used for the live recording now available on CPO. Whether the nearly half-century wait for Cloclo was worthwhile depends on how much a listener enjoys Lehár and how well audience members speak German – because as usual in Lehár releases from CPO, the performance is exemplary, but the CD production is well-nigh useless for non-German speakers, since no libretto is provided, there is no link offered to one online, the words are simply not to be found, and the very brief summary of the action (three-quarters of a page) gets less attention than the information on the individual singers, actor/narrator Frank Voß, and conductor Marius Burkert. Focusing on the participants in this revival is all well and good, but what is being revived surely deserves a degree of attention – considerably more than it receives here.

     This is a particular shame for Cloclo, because this operetta, light as it is, scarcely resembles others among Lehár’s less-serious works: there is no playing off of two disparate couples against each other and no psychological conflict involving any of the characters. Musically, there are no significant choruses, although there is yet another of those marvelous Lehár waltzes, so suffused with warmth and eroticism, that seemed to flow so effortlessly from the composer. There is also some particularly sparkling orchestration, including Lehár’s first use of saxophones. Cloclo is really a modernized Singspiel, the action carried along by extensive text that frequently lasts longer than the musical numbers between which it is heard. This eventually gets to such an imbalance that, in this performance, the work’s final six minutes include only 40 seconds of music!

     The lack of access to a translated libretto is especially unfortunate in this case, because for Cloclo and other less-known Lehár to have a hope of survival, never mind revival, the wonderful music needs to be accompanied by an understanding of what is going on. In the case of Cloclo, the story is a very up-to-date one for its time – and the music reflects that: Lehár delightfully includes and/or adapts newer dance forms, such as the foxtrot, along with popular tunes. The title character, with the unlikely name of Cloclo Mustache, is an up-to-date young woman of the 1920s, a sexually liberated dancer with bobbed hair and short skirts. She has a young but poor lover whom she supports by getting money from an older, married lover whom she addresses as “Papa,” leading his wife – who accidentally obtains a letter from Cloclo asking for money – to believe that her husband has a child from before their marriage. Since they have no children of their own, the wife decides to “rescue” Cloclo and bring her to live with her and her husband in the country. This results in an amusing series of misunderstandings, at the end of which the truth is revealed and the wife, herself quite an up-to-date thinker, accepts her husband’s misadventures provided that he remain faithful to her in the future.

     So Cloclo is a bit of a bedroom farce and a bit of a commentary on the “modern morality” of a century ago. It is a period piece, for sure, but not a museum piece. It needs to be taken pretty much at face value, perhaps as something of a fairy tale but not as a work of irony or social commentary; it possesses neither of those. To their credit, the performers, as usual at Bad Ischl, appreciate the liveliness, frothiness and silliness of the ins and outs of the plot, not taking anything they are doing particularly seriously but never descending into self-mockery or a kind of “meta” stance on the material. It helps that Burkert, a veteran at handling works such as this, conducts with such fine pacing and such a good feel for the Lehár style, with its warmth, easy flow, and tunes that seem danceable even when not in actual dance forms. Voß keeps the plot points flowing (for those with the ability to follow the language), while Sieglinde Feldhofer as Cloclo and Susanna Hirschler as Melousine play quite well off each other: in some ways, Cloclo is as much about the “wronged” wife as about the young libertine. Gerd Vogel as Severin does a fine job of being caught between the two women, and caught within his own web of deceit; and the other characters handle their smaller roles skillfully. The pleasures and frustrations both abound in this latest Bad Ischl foray into much-less-known Lehár: Cloclo is scarcely a masterpiece, but it is clever, well-paced, amusing and very tuneful. And it would be so much better if people other than fluent German speakers could understand it.

No comments:

Post a Comment