on 4 August 2007
This is a most characterful and rewarding Merry Widow, and one look at the cast list should tell you exactly why. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was peerless as Hanna Glawari and she gives a dedicated, multi-layered and even perhaps slightly fliratious performace. Wachter plays Danilo as a rather nasty character, and it pays off. In the Dummer Reiter duet, Schwarzkopf' Hanna sounds as if she's ready to murder Danilo with her own bare hands, while Wachter is trying to put on innocent airs. Nicolai Gedda is very dreamy and gives a rather more melancholy performance as Camille, and is well mached by Hanny Steffek. Lovro von Matacic, a seriously underrated conductor proves that he should be better known, and the orchestra respnd to his direction wonderfully. Grab it. You won't get better.
I've been very satisfied with the 1994 Studer/Gardiner recording on DGG, with the EMI Schwarzkopf/Ackermann from 1953 as backup, so I resisted for decades this 1963 EMI stereo update. Well, it's as great as many people seem to think it is. I'm not concerned with the fullness of the text that concerns some reviewers, for I know only cut versions, but this is a beauty. It's not a matter of the voices per se --rather, it's the theatrical verve of the thing. Schwarzkopf, at close to 50, isn't vocally perfect, and Steffek (Valencienne) can be a little glassy on top, but they're totally committed to their roles, and the interactions between the characters just sparkle. Steffek and Gedda (Rossillon) don't sound any better than Bonney and Trost (for Gardiner), but the sexual heat is with Steffek and Gedda, and the others sound just a bit tame by comparison. Likewise, Eberhard Waechter isn't concerned to treat this as an occasion for beautiful sound per se -- rather, he seems to know that the genre in which he's working requires expression and interaction, and smoothness be damned if the situation doesn't require it. Schwarzkopf too is completely on board -- totally credible, totally likeable -- and she and Waechter are just wonderful together. The chorus is fine, as are the singers of the smaller parts -- Kurt Equiluz a lovely Cascada -- and von Matacic and the orchestra are just magical. "The Merry Widow" is a work of genius in my book, and this recording is alive.