- Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love), operetta in 3 acts
Although the "golden age" of operetta has come and gone, composer Franz Lehár isn't in any real danger of being neglected so long as "The Merry Widow" continues to tread the boards of the world's stages. But as his first major "hit," and as an operetta stylistically limited by the constraints of contemporary fashion and tradition, "The Merry Widow" does not provide a full measure of the extent of Lehár's mastery as a composer. "Zigeunerliebe" (Gypsy Love) is a far better candidate for that qualification, and its first complete recording, now available from CPO, is reason for operetta fans to celebrate. Premiered in 1910, this three-act operetta is closer to being an opera and draws into the musical texture an odd admixture of influences ranging from Wagner to Richard Strauss to pop-styled Hungarian gypsy music. Although no one would give credit to Lehár the distinction of being an "experimental composer," he does nonetheless present an experimentally conceived blend of styles here, confirming his own otherwise bewildering comment that "I have always experimented, reached out to something new, often enough against the intentions of directors and publishers." That the middle act is set out in the form of a dream, and that Lehár matches the story to a musico-stylistic pastiche that progresses in the same manner as a dream, shows how far Lehár was willing to go with his experimental ideas. The music is ravishing, challenging, and extraordinary in every way, and we can be thankful that CPO's recording of "Zigeunerliebe" is close to ideal. The male singers are the weakest element, but these men are coming from a different tradition of singing related to grand opera and are not comfortable with the less forceful and vibrant requirements of operetta. The women are much better, with Dagmar Schellenberger, in the secondary role of Ilona, being excellent in particular, but Johanna Stojkovic is well more than just adequate in the important lead part of Zarika. The NDR Radiophilharmonie under Frank Beermann is splendid in every bar of this music, and this is important as Lehár's orchestration is in this case particularly ambitious and colorful. True operetta fans will so love "Zigeunerliebe" that even the relatively minor shortcomings of this set will not matter a great deal. If you have an operetta fan in your family who "has everything," CPO's "Zigeunerliebe" should probably move to top of one's potential gift list.