ALBUM TITLE: Lehár
PERFORMER: Christine Libor, Nikolai Schukoff, Ralf Simon; Bavarian Radio Choir; Munich Radio Orchestra/Ulf Schirmer
CATALOGUE NO: CPO 777 749-2
The first performances of Lehár’s Giuditta, in Vienna 1934, undoubtedly marked the passing of the Silver Age of operetta; but in forcing open the gates of the Vienna State Opera, Lehár’s last work swept aside the debate about whether operetta was opera to embrace a idea that is still with us – that what matters is the music and not the category to which it belongs.
The story is hardly new, mixing as it does Bizet’s Carmen – Giuditta the femme fatale who tempts an army officer, Antonio, to desert his regiment in North Africa – and Josef von Sternberg’s movie Morocco, which ends with Marlene Dietrich striding into the desert in pursuit of Gary Cooper. Not that Giuditta really ever leaves Vienna. Despite an occasional nod in the direction of the Maghreb, it’s in 3/4 time most of the way. There is the traditional pair of comic second lovers, Anita and Pierrino, and show stopping numbers for the leads. Giudetta’s ‘Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiss’ is vintage Lehár.
Nikolai Schukoff is a suitably heroic Antonio, though Christiane Libor’s Giuditta is more older sister than femme fatale. The other lovers are more satisfying, with Laura Schwerwitzl a sparkling Anita and Ralf Simon a sweet-toned Pierinno. In the pit Ulf Schirmer relishes Lehár’s lush orchestration. Purists may miss the full dialogue of the original; music-lovers will be grateful that it’s not allowed to interfere with Lehár’s operetta.