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Franz Lehár: Der Graf von Luxemburg
Michael Suttner (René), Gesa Hoppe (Angèle Didier), Harald Serafin (Prince Basil Basilovitch), Marika Lichter (Countess Stasa Kokozow), Marko Kathol (Armand Brissard), Anja-Nina Bahrmann (Juliette Vermont), Stephan Paryla (Sergei Mentschikoff), Franz Leitner (Pawel von Pawlovitch), Johannes Beck (Pélégrin), Peter Leutgöb (Grand Hotel Manager), Wilhelm Griessler/Andrea Karaba/Michael Koller/Michael Stark/Sabine Zlamala (Theatrical performers), Mörbisch Festival Choir and Ballet, Bernard Schneider (Chorus Master), Mörbisch Festival Orchestra, Rudolf Bibl (Conductor), Dietmar Pflegerl (Stage Director), Claus Viller (Video Director), Rolf Langenfass (Set and Costume Designer), Friedrich Rom (Lighting Designer), Giorgio Madia (Choreography), Wolfgang Fritz (Acoustics Designer)
Recording: Bauernkapelle St. Georgen, Austria (2006) – 146’
VideoLand Klassik #VLMD 013 (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in German, English, French, Italian and Chinese – Subtitles in English, French, Italian and Spanish

Notions of love and marriage pivoting around money and wealth was a theme that Franz Lehár used with great success. Achieving early acclivity with Die lustige Witwe (1905), Lehár went on to create another blockbuster operetta in the same vein with The Count of Luxembourg four years later but with a twist. Musically formulated to a libretto by Alfred Maria Willner and Robert Bodansky, Der Graf’s setting centers around a penurious count living a carefree Bohemian lifestyle whose fortunes suddenly change with surprising results. The early 20th century nonsensical setting is injected with Russian/Slavic countenances that only embellish the already outrageous storyline. But within operetta genre, any weak plot is excuse enough for a composer to translate into an evening’s worth of infectious music and delightful dancing... Franz Lehár was one of the best in his profession.

Once again, Rolf Langenfass concocts an overly lavish (a tad kitschy) spectacle that’s a bit Broadway© and a bit Busby Berkeley. Der Graf’s Act I is set within the Montmartre district, replete with Parisian buildings askew (a physical metaphor of this comical operetta-absurdity), emblazoned neon signs, various magasins parisiens, and the back stage door to the Paris Opéra. All is littered at the base of the Eiffel Tower which acts as a modified Proscenium Arch to filter in the endless troupe of dancers and singers. In 1937 Lehár added a Carnival scene that ushers in the sassy excitement and frivolities to come... this is a splendid musical footnote.

Amidst Mardis Gras and atop the fourth parade float laced with a bevy of Baroque-masqueraded women (we think), we’re introduced to Michael Suttner as the Count. A youthful Ryan O’Neal (and Chance Caldwell) look-alike, the blue-eyed, dimpled tenor is outstanding on all fronts. Musically demanding throughout, Suttner’s passaggio is smooth, the voice unveils pristine quality, and fabulous clarion brightness; his acting comes across naturally, and he’s charming in every sense of the word. Guys and gals would swoon over this man.

Harald Serafin, involved in many a Mörbisch production, has a rather extensive part in Der Graf as the conniving Prince Basil Basilovitch. His acting is excessively demonstrative which is very apropos for this type of operatic work. “Ich bin verliebt” (“I’m so in love”), a cute Basil ditty, has Rudolf Bibl’s orchestra playing light pizzicati to help accentuate Serafin’s warm and broad affections towards the opera singer, Angèle Didier. Russian agents and Basil side-kicks, Sergei Mentschikoff, Pawel von Pawlovitch and Pélégrin (Stephan Paryla, Franz Leitner and Johannes Geck, respectively), add antics without blatant cresting.

In the initial entrée, clothed in a diagonally red striped baggy pant suit and bedecked with a large dark Prussian blue beret, Gesa Hoppe’s uncanny resemblance to Dorothy Lamour (from the 1940’s ...Road to films with Bob Hope) makes her a compelling and charismatic singer as the retiring opera singer, Angèle Didier. Her swagger, nuances and voice are well positioned as a perfect leading female Lehár performer. There is tremendous power behind her soprano voice, the control is disciplined and effortless with occasional higher notes trending on the shrill side. The Graf/Didier duet from Act II, “Sind sie von sinnen, Herr Baron” (“Have a care...”), is a lyrically sentimental petite pièce with amorous grace and sweetness (akin to Witwe’s Camille/Valencienne love duet.)

Anja-Nina Bahrmann’s Juliette Vermont has an essence of lemon zest and tang as the Angèle’s hairdresser, a true féminin bohème. Insistently desiring marriage, she encounters her beau’s reluctances, Armand Brissard, who, instead, wants to choose a carefree lifestyle without formal attachment: Marko Kathol plays up the role with sparkly delight. Their popular staircase waltz, “Mädel klein, Mädel fein” (“Lip to lip, cheek to cheek”) is fun and light, but the blocking is under par. Bahrmann’s higher tessitura springs forth a font of buttery notes.

Not to forget the remaining principal character (who only appears in Act III) is the Countess Stasa Kokozow, who displays amusing, if not, elements of lecherousness to her character. Interpreted in a half-talk half-sing format, Marika Lichter nicely espouses hilarity to the role. Forever chasing Prince Basil, she seductively orders room service to deliver cigars and vodka to her room in the hotel with hot anticipation of nuptial bliss to her beloved Basilovitch. Lichter adds a colorful extension to Lehár’s score.

Inventive and eye-catching are two words to amply describe the choreography by Giorgio Madia: a decisive trademark, he favors use of contagions (particularly in the opening of Act II), and in Der Graf the varying patterns of waving, flowing hands become a “watermark” in this production. Act III opens with butlers and maids “building” the Grand Hotel in an Art Deco motif that involves ingenious use of brooms while Act II has waiters enacting a modified sequential “dance” with moving buffet tables, emblazoned with candelabras. No doubt, Giorgio Madia keeps Der Graf von Luxemburg’s movement running at an endless speed with tasteful aesthetics.

This is one of the finest productions presented by the Seefestpiele Mörbisch. Cast selection is first rate, and Dietmar Pflegerl’s stage direction nicely fits inside the template for one of Franz Lehár’s most affectionate operettas.

Christie Grimstad




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