- Fatinitza, operetta
Operetta is by its very nature socially irresponsible and politically incorrect. Few operettas are more socially irresponsible than Franz von Suppé's 1876 effort "Fatinitza"; a coarse, high-kicking, cross-dressing opus set smack dab in the grinding horrors of the Crimean War. Vladimir is a Russian lieutenant with a touch of Ed Wood in his soul, dressing up as Fatinitza and winning the passionate, undying devotion of General Kantschukoff. In his male identity, Vladimir is likewise taken with the General's daughter Lydia. When Lydia is whisked off by the Turks, Fatinitza poses as her maid in order to remain close to her. The truth comes out as Lydia is inducted into a Turkish harem, and with the help of Vladimir's friend Julian, Lydia's freedom is achieved. At war's end, poor foolish General Kantschukoff is still seeking Fatinitza, and Vladimir introduces himself as Fatinitza's sister, explaining that she has died. Although the General is crushed by the news, he allows Vladimir to marry Lydia. This work remained popular from the time of its premiere until the outbreak of the First World War; the horrors of that conflict had a tendency to erase the appeal of works like these, and between 1917 and 2006 "Fatinitza" was revived only twice. This CPO recording, Franz von Suppé: Fatinitza, is taken from the second post-WWI revival, a 2006 production from the Lehár Festival in Bad Ischl. The role of Vladimir/Fatinitza is a "pants" role, traditionally played by a woman, and in this production the part is portrayed by mezzo-soprano Stephanie Houtzeel. She and the rest of the cast are very strong, the orchestral playing is high spirited and crisp, and the recording, while a little distant, is clear and brings the singers into a good perspective with the rest. For English speakers, CPO's booklet presents a problem; while an English-language summary of the story is provided, there is no libretto of any kind, not even in German. What's more is that this is a complete performance and so there is a fair amount of dialogue involved. If neither of these aspects of the presentation prove a barrier to enjoying this performance, then CPO's Franz von Suppé: Fatinitza should satisfy; certainly there is no other recording of this guiltiest of guilty pleasures.