Kalman’s Operetta, “Die Csardasfurstin,” Brims Over with Lively Melodies

A-OP-CsardasfurstinKalman Operetta, “Die Csardasfurstin,” Brims Over with Lively Melodies

  A csardas or czardas is an Hungarian dance noted for its changes in tempo. “Die Csardasfurstin” is a 1907 operetta by Emmerich Kalman (1882-1953), a Hungarian composer, many of whose works were contemporaneous with those of Franz Lehar, a Hungarian composer working in the Viennese style (that is, waltzes).

Even at the time of “Die Fledermaus” (1874), Hungarian music was all the rage in Europe. So while other composers did what they could to get Hungarian music into obligatory party scenes, Kalman’s scores gave audiences the real thing. Since Act I of “Die Csardasfurstin” takes place in Budapest, the songs and dances are brimming over with Hungarian folk melodies.

Back in 1969, an abridged version was made for television with Anna Moffo in the title role (“The Gypsy Princess” is the common translation for this work, but it is inaccurate and misleading) and it is available on a Deutsche Grammphon DVD. But now there is a complete “live” performance on the Video Land label as given in 2002 at the Seefestspiele Morbisch. The open air stage is vast, the cast of singers and dancers fills it nicely, and the whole production is given a glitzy Broadway style that somehow does not seem top-heavy.

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Emmerich Kalman

The plot involves a nobleman, Edwin (Ferdinand von Bothmer), who is engaged by his parents to the Countess Stasi (Kerstin Grotrian) but is in love with the singer Sylva (Vera Schoenenberg) whose specialty is singing czardas numbers. Although ready to leave on a tour to America, she is willing to stay for Edwin…but of course things go awry. The denouement, although not very original, still comes as a surprise.

Schoenenberg is tall and attractive enough to make a convincing Sylva, while von Bothmer is not quite as attractive as one would wish for the dashing male lead. Contributing to the fun is Edwin’s friend Count Boni (Markus Werba), who with Countess Stasi shares the role of the secondary loving couple. Alas, those horrible body mikes are even more offensive in close-ups.

I am most impressed with the opening, in which the dead bodies of civilians are lying amidst the rubble of some restaurant. Then two clocks turn back a quarter-hour, the bodies revive, and all is jolly in pre-World War I Budapest. Act II takes place 10 minutes before the fatal hour, Act III 5 minutes before. Thankfully, the show ends on a happy note; but the Seefestspiele fireworks after curtain calls might be interpreted in a less jolly manner.

The running time is 132 minutes and subtitles are in three languages but not in German.

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