Friday, December 30, 2011

Sunday Classics: Beginning a "Fledermaus" New Year's -- "Happy is he who forgets what can't be changed anyway"


Laura Albino as Rosalinde and Keith Klassen
as Alfred in Toronto last January

J. STRAUSS II: Die Fledermaus: Act I, "Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist"
ALFRED, later joined by ROSALINDE:
Happy is
he who forgets
what can't be changed anyway.
Richard Leech (t), Alfred; Kiri Te Kanawa (s), Rosalinde; Vienna Philharmonic, André Previn, cond. Philips, recorded November 1990

by Ken

Sometimes these music posts take shape just the way they formed in my head, which is swell, sometimes. (Sometimes you wish they hadn't.) More often they balk and resist, or -- at happier times -- take on a life of their own. I think that's what's happening this weekend.

Some of you may recall from last week's holiday posts devoted to Part I of Handel's Messiah that this week we were scheduled to do the same sort of thing with Part I The Childhood of Christ, Berlioz's always-unexpected and deeply moving oratorio. And we'll get to that eventually. But I thought for this more carefree holiday weekend we would go in a different direction, ringing in the new year with a frequent New Year's celebration vehicle, Johann Strauss II's operetta Die Fledermaus.

Tomorrow night in a special New Year's Eve edition of Sunday Classics we're going to be crashing the masquerade ball at Prince Orlofsky's, where by three quite different routes three members of the household of Gabriel von Eisenstein will find themselves -- in disguise, of course -- in attendance, none of them knowing that the others are there. How this comes to pass we'll hear a little more of in the click-through, but for now I thought we'd hear the whole scene of which we've just heard that juicy morsel from near the beginning.

To set the scene: On the very day when Herr von Eisenstein is due to turn himself in for a brief prison sentence for some indecorous behavior, his wife Rosalinde's ex-boyfriend, an Italian tenor named Alfred, has turned up hoping to renew auld acquaintance. It's Alfred who espouses the giddily sensible philosophy of life we heard above. And for once I think we need to at least look at it in the original language, which is impossible to translate with the economy and rhyming brio of the German:
Glücklich ist,
wer vergisst,
was doch nicht zu ändern ist.
Three lines, note, of three three, and seven syllables, respectively, neatly rhyming -- bubbling over almost irresistibly.

Naturally Fledermaus is often performed in the local language, and translation is always a near-insoluble ordeal. In addition the kinds of problems I've suggested with these lines, there's the problems of tone. There's a tendency in particular to resort to cartoony "cuteness," which changes the character of the piece. (Of course as many German-language performances show, it's quite easy to transform the tone of the piece in this direction even in the original, but when the text you're singing performs the task for you, this particular battle is lost before the first shot is fired.)

The translation we're going to hear in a moment, by contrast, seems to me quite clever, and even singable -- good enough that you think somebody really ought to set it to music. Certainly Johann Strauss didn't, and especially not to this music. The problem is that the English text is hardly even related to what the characters are singing at the moment. Oh well, it's a nice performance musically and vocally.

To finish setting the scene: Eisenstein has already made his departure, presumably (or so Rosalinde thinks) to make his way to prison. Alfred, wearing Eisenstein's dressing gown, makes his presence known, and he and Rosalinde are flirting and sparring when who should appear but the prison governor Frank, come to haul the master of the house off to the pokey. Naturally he assumes that the gentleman in the dressing gown is his quarry, and Rosalinde is hardly in a position to disabuse him.

Die Fledermaus: Act I finale: Scene, Alfred-Rosalinde; Scene, Frank-Rosalinde-Alfred (English translation by Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs)

Sergio Franchi (t), Alfred; Anna Moffo (s), Rosalinde; John Hauxvell (b), Frank; Vienna State Opera Orchestra, Oskar Danon, cond. RCA, recorded June 1963


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