Count of Luxemburg

A-OP-Graf von LuxemburgLehar Operetta Shows the Start of the Modern Musical

Lehar’s 1909 operetta “Der Graf von Luxemburg” (The Count of Luxemburg) has a plot that even Gilbert might turn down, even though he used similar plot devices in at least two of his works. But when watching an operetta, such plots must be accepted as part of the fun.

There is an ArtHaus DVD of a 1972 made-for-television film of “The Count” that runs 95 minutes. There is also one on the CPO label that has poor reviews. But now there is a full 146-minute production from 2002 on the Videoland label and this is the “Count” to see. It is given on the mammoth stage of the Seefestspiel Morbisch, with its lovely lake behind the island-like stage.

As for that plot. It is Carnival time in Paris. To avoid marrying beneath his station, an elderly Russian prince (Harald Serafin)—although already engaged to a real countess–hires Rene, the penniless Count of Luxemburg, to enter into a kissless marriage with the diva Angele (Gesa Hoppe) for a period of time. Then
she too will be a countess, they can divorce, and the prince can marry her. The gimmick: the two are wed on opposite sides of a screen and never see each other. They part and later meet, only to… Well, the reader can take it from there.

The traditional secondary couple is the artist Armand (Marko Kathol) and his long-standing fiancée Juliette (Anna-Nina Bahrmann). Then there is the “other woman,” the aforementioned Countess (Marika Lichter), who forces the denouement to end the play.

A scene from long ago: marriage behind a screen

Not having any “big” number that lingers in the memory as do at least three melodies from Lehar’s 1907 “Merry Widow,” the sentimental serious tunes are firmly in the operetta tradition while the comic ones look forward to the early Broadway musicals. I cannot tell how far the dialogue on this recording varies from the original; but I see that a 1937 revision of Act I is used.

The production is a handsome one, if just a little overblown, given the vast stage. Those (to me) absurd body mikes that make the singers look like telephone switchboard operators are only too apparent in close-ups; and I cannot help but think how the audience is paying to hear electronically projected voices. I find the voices of the two leading lovers adequate to the demands of their roles

The English subtitles are in rhyme rather than a literal translation of the German lyrics. The booklet gives only a short resume of the plot, while the tracking list does not reflect the numbering on the DVD.

All in all, I find this recording a highly enjoyable look back to when musicals had melodies and happy endings were what audiences wanted and got.