This a famous recording and a widely-beloved one. It displays the charm and effervescence of the Vienna State Opera in the artistic glory days of the post-War period. All the principal singers are famous and the performance is a landmark against which all subsequent performances must be measured. All this would normally justify a five-star rating.
While the performance is a landmark, it seems to me that it falls well short of perfection.
Charm and effervescence are certainly present, but they should not be mistaken for authentic tradition. When this recording was made, "The Merry Widow" was a relative newcomer to the repertory of the Vienna State Opera, which in earlier days had taken a very top-lofty attitude toward such trifles as mere operetta. (The great Richard Tauber had been forced to defend himself against that very attitude. "I don't do operetta," he had declared, "I do Lehar!")
Elizabeth Schwarzkopf offers an unforgettable portrait of Hanna Glavari. But it is obviously a very, very studied portrait. Frankly, I'd be happier with a merry Widow a bit less thoughtful and a great deal more merry. Nicolai Gedda sings beautifully, if rather generically, sailing over the high-lying role of Camille. Emmy Loose, perhaps the least-remembered member of this cast, is terrific as Valencienne.
Erich Kunz was a baritone who achieved acclaim in the operas of Mozart and Richard Strauss, as well as fame in operetta. In appraising his Danilo, I find myself in hearty agreement with the opinion often expressed by Mr. Kolenkhov in Kaufman and Hart's "You Can't Take It with You": Confidentially, he stinks. Kunz was simply not up to singing the tenorish line of Danilo as written by Lehar, so the part was lowered for his benefit. That is bad enough, but why would the worldly and witty widow waste even two minutes of her time on Kunz's charmless, snarling, whining, drunken lout of a Danilo? That she would give her money AND herself to such a distasteful wretch is inconceivable. Kunz is ubiquitous in German language operetta recordings of his era. He might be passable as the revenge-minded Dr. Falke in "Der Fledermaus" but he is hopeless as a romantic lead. Nevertheless, that is how he was cast in operetta after operetta. The Austrians must have heard or seen something attractive in him. I do not. (I notice that in the blurb at the back of this Naxos version, Schwazkopf, Gedda and Loose are each praised by name but not a word is printed about Kunz.)
The mono sound on the recording was very good for its time and acceptable in ours for anyone who does not obsess over the mere mechanics of sound reproduction. What I have heard of this new Naxos version sounds fine.