OPERA NEWS - Paganini
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LEHÁR: Paganini

spacer K. Kaiser, Liebau; Todorovich, Zysset. Munich Radio Orchestra and Chorus, Schirmer. No libretto. CPO 777 699-2 (2)

Recordings Lehar Paganini Cover 815

There seems to be a revival of interest in Franz Lehár of late, with complete recordings of his operettas now appearing on CD and productions popping up throughout Germany and Austria. And why not? Perhaps he doesn’t quite rank alongside Richard Strauss or Arnold Schoenberg — to name two of his contemporaries — but it is easy to hear how his music pleased the crowds. Lehár was known as “the Puccini of Operetta,” and that title was well earned. Perhaps more than any other operetta composer of his era, he was able to reach surprising emotional depths with his music.

That quality is certainly on display in abundance in Paganini, the first of his famed collaborations with tenor Richard Tauber. Although not much of a hit at its premiere in Vienna in 1925 — without Tauber, due to scheduling conflicts — it had a second chance the following year, when Tauber starred in the first Berlin production. It turned out to be a triumph, launching Tauber and Lehár as a potent box-office team. In Tauber, Lehár had found his ideal interpreter. On the night of Paganini’s Berlin premiere, Lehár congratulated Tauber with tears in his eyes and thanked him for allowing him “to be artistically reborn in this moment.” 

A highly fictionalized account of a romance between the great violinist and Anna Elisa, Princess of Lucca (the sister of Napoleon), Paganini is bathed in Lehár’s exquisitely romantic melodies — as well as the usual component of marches, waltzes and comic numbers. It remains as unabashedly appealing today as it was ninety years ago.

CPO’s complete two-disc recording, including the spoken dialogue, comes from a 2009 Münchner Rundfunk­orchester performance under the sure hand of conductor Ulf Schirmer. Zoran Todorovich, a Serbian heldentenor, may not possess Tauber’s magnificent tone, but he sings with plenty of brio and panache. His Princess, Kristiane Kaiser, is a full-voiced, elegant Mozartean. She sounds at home here, having already sung Lehár’s Friederike and Smetana’s Bartered Bride. The secondary comic leads, Martin Zysset and Eva Lieblau, are lighter in weight but just as firm of style. All of them handle the lengthy spoken dialogues (easily programmed out) with ease. It sounds like the singers are really enjoying themselves, and not at the expense of Lehár. They deliver their performances with conviction rather than camp.

Unfortunately, CPO includes no libretto. There is, however, a fairly detailed synopsis, plus an informative if clumsily translated historical essay by Stefan Frey. spacer

ERIC MYERS

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