COMPOSERS: J Strauss
PERFORMER: Michael Volle, Martin Zysset, Piotr Beczala, Rolf Haunstein, Elizabeth Magnuson; Zürich Opera House Children’s Choir, Chorus & Orchestra/Franz Welser-Möst
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 57009 2
‘Little if anything is heard today from Simplicius,’ is all the Viking Opera Guide has to say on this curiosity, while Grove calls it simply ‘another disappointment’. Yet the idea of a Strauss rarity is intriguing, and Zürich Opera, which staged it last year, and EMI have sufficient faith to have invested in this live, world-premiere recording.
Anyone hoping for an undiscovered Fledermaus or Gypsy Baron should approach with caution. Though this is operetta with a typically attractive, melodic Straussian score, it is also a historical drama that examines the corruption of innocence and unworldliness by war (specifically the Thirty Years War). It’s a rich if unsubtle combination of tiresome spoken dialogue, fierce melodrama, lush, lilting lyricism and jolly folksiness.
Welser-Möst inspires a bright, finely detailed performance from the Zürich Opera Orchestra, with especially fine woodwind playing and some rousing percussion. And it’s decently sung, particularly by the sopranos Elizabeth Magnuson and Martina Janková and the high tenor Piotr Beczala, though Martin Zysset mugs dreadfully in the coy-bumpkin title role. But there’s an off-putting sense that the only way to inject any sort of life into this ultimately dreary work is to exaggerate every gesture and note. File under justly neglected operas. Claire Wrathall