Potential buyers should at least be alerted to two features of the opera, which is not really like what you would expect from the usual comments about cross between Strauss and Puccini. It would be more appropriate to say: a cross between Lehar and Puccini, with a bit of Alban Berg thrown in. The story line is woefully idiotic, but most of the music is rich and colourful, not to say overripe and opulent. Frankly the "Lehar" episodes drive me mad, they stick out like a sore thumb, whereas "Berg" fits in perfectly.
Leinsdorf, who normally tends to be somewhat cut and dried, here adopts an almost opposite stance. The result is an extraordinarily lavish orchestral canvas. One could easily come to the belief that he loves Korngold's score more than any other. The sound, despite its age, is translucent, all the details of this rich score comes through. So no complaints in this department. Listeners accustomed to digital might find a little constricted, but one gets used to it quickly.
The cast is variable. René Kollo gives a good protrayal, as he should, having been a pop singer before he turned to opera. His voice is not especially agile, and he has no genuine top. It is not a performance that would thrill you, and he has a habit (also discernible in his Wagner roles, where they sound utterly inappropriate) of degenerating into vaudeville. Mind you, the plot invites this kind of thing. In contrast, the mellow baritone of Hermann Prey caresses the ear with its mellifluous tones. Unfortunately he only has one 'song', a kind of circus ballade, and Frank Sinatra would have done it just as well. Benjamin Luxon's role is mostly sing-song speaking, so there isn't much to say; whjereas Rose wagemann has a deep alto voice that seems ideal for the lines she has to sing. Her's is in fact the first really singing voice we hear, and she makes a good start to proceedings.
This leaves us with the heroine. Well, she ain't no Maritza! Still, as long as she sings in her natural register, she produces some lovely tones. Rising up into higher regions, her voice gets pinched. Not ideal.
As far as I know, this is the only recording of the work in modern stereo. It is, from a singing point of view, less than perfect. I could imagine Jessye Norman thrilling me where Nesbitt has me worried if she's going to make it. I think Nicolai Gedda would have thrilled me as the hero, while Kollo leaves me cold. So the real hero of this recording is Leinsdorf. I can't imagine another conductor with so much flair of the Viennese kind - committed, but not overly serious, and revelling in the glories of the orchestral writing.
Finally, a word of praise for Charles Gerhardt, whose production is stylish, but discreet. How easy it would been to exaggerate the effects.
So in all, if you can cope with a story that's sillier than even the proverbial silly opera plot, there is plenty of well-performed, beautiful music to enjoy.