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KÁLMÁN: Die Zirkusprinzessin

spacer Hallstein, Orén; Schock, Karner, Fürbringer; Symphony Orchestra Kurt Graunke, Schmidt-Boelcke. Production: Köhler. Arthaus Musik 101 596, 111 mins., subtitled

Video Zirkusprinzessin Cover 712

Die Dollarprinzessin (The Dollar Princess) is one of my absolute favorite operettas, as it was composed by my favorite Viennese master, Leo Fall. It abounds in gorgeous waltzes, chatty duets in the style of Jerome Kern (who copied Fall) and fantastic ensembles. This 1971 Unitel production, however, is about as close to the original operetta as the film series Ma and Pa Kettle. The New World milieu, first in New York, is twisted in Act III to Colorado, where one of the characters has set up some oil wells.

The songs are almost entirely unrecognizable, given the vulgar, ping-pongy arrangements of Bert Dreyer, as played by the seedy Graunke orchestra from Munich, the aider and abetter of these vile arrangements. New lyrics have been written for most of the numbers — completely unnecessary, given the finesse of the original Willner and Grünbaum lyrics — and if you know the original, you will have a difficult time figuring out what was originally what. 

The sad thing is that this adaptation starts out fairly faithful to the original, with the chorus of typists that caused so much comment in 1907, but here cheapened by undistinguished dancing. There are further dance ensembles on the boat bringing various souls to New York, which are vaguely patterned after the "Hip, Hip, Hurrah" ensemble, and grotesque Indian and Western-saloon dances at the finale.

One hears only vague references to the complete score. "Wir tanzen Ringelreih'n" and "Das sind die Dollarprinzessin" are heard, but with dreadful new lyrics. The Act I finale, one of Fall's supreme compositions, is reduced to nothingness; the miraculous "Hofball in Berlin" sequence is simply danced. Tatjana Iwanow was hired to play Olga (from the Volga), but she does not get to sing this delicious cossack-inflected number. Gabriele Jacoby, the daughter of Third Reich superstar Marika Rökk, is quite charming as Alice, and Gerhart Lippert is an attractive and likable Freddy Wehrburg. But their songs are mostly cut down.

Die Zirkusprinzessin (The Circus Princess) is not one of my ideal Emmerich Kálmán operettas, like Die Csárdásfürstin or Gräfin Mariza. It was always an enormous success in Russia, where it has been filmed more than once as Mister X. I am not too fond of circuses, which is one reason I have a low tolerance for this work, although it has one of Kálmán's more appealing ballads, "Zwei Märchenaugen" (Two Fairy-Tale Eyes), and a few other racy numbers. 

Here, the plot is followed fairly scrupulously, with the songs more or less in order. (Usually, the Kálmán estate closely regulated its properties, which may explain the fidelity.) Several numbers are cut, but the end result is almost as dull as many of the other Unitel operettas. Seeing Rudolf Schock, an excellent singer, in a silver lamé outfit as Mister X is off-putting, as he does none of his acrobatic stunts. Ingeborg Hallstein, also a very good operetta singer, is curiously weighed down by her enormous false eyelashes. But they sing well together, and their numbers are largely intact. In fact, there are several reprises, with some falsetto codas from Schock.

The story is a typical Brammer–Grünwald confection, wherein Hallstein's character is married to Mister X in a Russian-Orthodox ceremony, only to find he is not (at first) a prince. She thus becomes a "circus princess." I doubt there was much to be done with this plot. But the evil machinations of a jealous lover, Prince Sergius, are finely drawn by Ernst Fritz Fürbringer, who appeared in several Third Reich films (such as Titanic and Wiener Blut) and was the German dubber for such stars as James Stewart, Henry Fonda and Gregory Peck. One of the more popular numbers, "Die kleinen Mäderln in Trikot," is performed well enough by Peter Karner, but this score will never seem as fiery or as searing as Kálmán's two masterworks. spacer

RICHARD TRAUBNER

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6