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  • Der Graf von Luxemburg, and: Die Gezeichneten
  • John Holland
Franz Lehár. Der Graf von Luxemburg. DVD. Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra / Alfred Eschwé. With Bo Skovhus, Juliane Banse, Rainer Trost, Gabriela Bone, Andreas Conrad. Georgsmarienhütte, Germany: CPO, 2006. 777 194-2. $34.98.
Franz Schreker. Die Gezeichneten. DVD. Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin / Kent Nagano. With Robert Brubaker, Anne Schwanewilms, Michael Volle, Robert Hale, Wolfgang Schöne. Stuttgart: EuroArts Music International, 2006. 2055298. $29.99.

Vienna at the turn of the previous century must have been fascinating. The years just prior to the outbreak of World War I saw the decay of an inbred aristocracy in this outwardly conservative city while shocking new ideas were gushing forth from the likes of Freud, Schoenberg, Klimt, and Schnitzler. Even the realm of opera, traditionally slow to respond to change, was in a state of upheaval, and these two DVDs illustrate some of that change.

Franz Lehár is credited with breathing life into the operetta genre during this so-called "Silver Age" with sophisticated romantic comedies that were much closer to reality than the farces of the previous generation. Der Graf von Luxemburg was his second triumph, first performed at Theater an der Wien in 1909 just two years after Die lustige Witwe. This 2005 production, coproduced with the Vienna Volksoper, was presented at the Theater an der Wien as part of the KlangBogen Festivals Wien. As one expects from any Volksoper production of this repertory, the singing and acting are dangerously close to being perfect. Bo Skovhus and Juliane Banse lead the ensemble, with equally fine performances from Rainer Trost and Gabriela Bone (as the secondary couple), Andreas Conrad as Basil, and Viennese musical theater star Eva Maria Marold as Basil's estranged wife, who nearly steals the show in her last act appearance. The only miscalculation stems from the decision to change the location from Paris to Vienna and update the action from the era of the operetta's premiere to the 1950s. While this may add an element of nostalgia for modern audiences, it wreaks havoc with the logic of the plot. In the original text, an arranged anonymous marriage between a playboy Count and an actress is staged to elevate her to the aristocracy, so that when she divorces him three months later, she can marry a Russian aristocrat. Since all notions of aristocracy had disappeared by the time of this postwar, Soviet era, the device makes no sense at all. Even the eponymous Count has been demoted to a dilettante writer who bears the nickname [End Page 672] "Count of Luxembourg" after his famously unfinished novel. None of this is enough to detract from the excellence of the performances, but it does tend to kill the notion of Lehár as an innovator in introducing believable stories to operetta. The most serious drawback to this DVD is the sound: recording levels seem to have been set to accommodate the chorus and orchestra, with the result that the soloists sometimes sound remote and off mike in the ensembles.

The other end of the spectrum in Viennese musical theater of the era can be seen in a lavish production of Schreker's Die Gezeichneten, filmed at the 2005 Salzburg Festival. Written during the years of World War I but not heard until 1918 in Frankfurt, it is a lurid tale that makes full use of the new ideas in psychoanalysis and the orchestral and harmonic palette already shocking the bourgeoisie in the operas of Richard Strauss. Its neglect throughout much of the twentieth century can be attributed to its enormous scale and explicitly sexual subject matter, which contributed to its ban by the Nazis as "degenerate."

This production also updates the setting from Renaissance Italy to some unspecified location during the time period in which it was written. The black-clad characters scuttle in and out of the shadows like denizens of the burgeoning expressionist cinema, and their neurotic behavior seems right at home in this period. The vast stage of the Felsenreitschule is littered with the broken bits of an enormous stone body, making it clear that this is a world of total decay...


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