Thursday February 7, 2013

KEENE, N.H.

Carnival Fairy -- The average American lover of operettas will certainly recognize the names Offenbach, Strauss Jr., Lehar and Herbert. The name Emmerich Kalman might not register, but it will to Europeans, especially in Hungary, as the composer of many musical theater works. Among them is the recent addition to Ohio Light Opera’s series of famous and not so famous operettas.

When performed at the College of Wooster, Ohio, this 1917 work is called "Miss Springtime." In the latest two-CD set on the Albany label, it is called "The Carnival Fairy." Its somewhat confusing evolution to its present form is told briefly in the program notes, which contain all the lyrics and dialogue.

The plot is less than featherweight. A painter, Viktor Ronai (Grant Knox), meets a Hungarian countess, Alexandra (Tara Sperry), travelling incognito and chosen by the villagers as Carnival Queen. Her companion is Hubert (Jacob Allen), engaged to the suspicious Lori (Natalie Ballenger). Not much happens beyond the usual misunderstandings.

Kalman’s music more than makes up for things. However, in the English translation of Steven Daigle, the lyrics sound more than usually sappy. I just wonder what the original Hungarian words are like.

The cast is very young-sounding, and their reading of the dialogue is slow, careful, and pretty monotonous (in the literal meaning of the word). I wish the OLO would get some zip into those spoken episodes, which many listeners would want to program out after the first hearing.

Steven Byess conducts in a lively way and the singers do what they can with the cardboard characters, super-sentimental lyrics, and moderate attempts at humor. Definitely worth hearing, "The Carnival Fairy" is a far cry from its ancestors, the wittier and more tuneful "Die Fledermaus" and "Merry Widow."

The running time is 49 minutes for Act I on CD1 and 65 for Acts II and III on CD 2.

Blossom Time -- Sigmund Romberg was at his best with both feet in European operetta. "The Student Prince" (1924) is the prime example. But before that came "Blossom Time" (1921), in which Romberg was challenged to select and adapt music by Franz Schubert to provide a musical setting to a book and lyrics by Dorothy Donnelly. Like the (then) future "Song of Norway," based on the music of and purporting to tell the story of Edvard Grieg, "Blossom Time" does the same for Schubert. Both plots are weak and predictable, both scores are most enjoyable.

As part of their mission to produce as many familiar and unfamiliar operettas for the public, Light Opera of Ohio has done a good job with "Blossom Time." Other than mentioning that the character Schubert is like the character Hoffmann in Offenbach’s opera -- his art must become his mistress -- I can ignore the plot. (It hinges on someone mishearing two similar names!) We can also ignore the dated lyrics of Donnelly and concentrate on Romberg’s adaptations of the Schubert pieces he chose.

The big hits are the Serenade and "You are My Song of Love." The booklet generously gives the origin of most of the songs in the score. All of the music is conducted with affection by Steven Byess and sung with verve by the OLO soloists, among whom are Justin Berkowitz (Schubert), Amy Maples (Mitzi), Caroline Miller (Bellabruna) and Luke Bahr (Baron Schober).

The dialogue is spoken a bit more naturally than in some OLO recordings, a good sign. I suggest that frequent hearings would benefit by having the dialogue programmed out.

The running time is 104:23 minutes, with Act I on CD 1 and Acts II and III on CD 2.

Note: Among the other operettas recorded by the OLO are Victor Herbert’s "The Red Mill," "Naughty Marietta," "The Fortune Teller," "Sweethearts" and Eileen; Kalman’s "Autumn Maneuvers" and "Der Zigeunerprimas"; Strauss II’s "Die Fledermaus" and "A Night in Venice"; and even Jerome Kern’s "The Cabaret Girl," a 1922 musical with lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse! The European works are performed, of course, in English.

Not to be ignored are OLO’s nearly complete series of Gilbert and Sullivan delights with complete dialogue.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.