During the 60s, Franz Marszalek would turn to another group of tenors to play the leading roles in his broadcasts and recordings. The first and least-known of the three was the German lyric tenor Reinhold Bartel. Like Franz Fehringer, he would start out singing lyric tenor roles in the provincial German opera houses; roles such as Tamino, Don Ottavio, Idamante and Jacquino. A typical lyric tenor of his time, Bartel had a bigger and more beautiful voice than Fehringer’s. Most importantly, where Fehringer’s voice was dry, Bartel’s was warm, like Groh’s, but not as large. Technically, he was more proficient than Fehringer. When he sang the high notes,
they were very pleasing to the ear. Just as Fehringer’s case has shown, a tenor didn’t need to have a beautiful voice or a good technique to have a successful singing career in operetta so long as he could touch the audience with his singing. However, for an operatic career, audiences then were more interested in witnessing a singer’s technical prowess or hearing the beauty of their singing than in leaving the opera house with a memory of a complete and intact aesthetic experience. Unsurprisingly, Bartel was able to maintain a successful career in the opera house in conjunction with his prolific broadcasting and recording career in the radio station and the studio, as opposed to Fehringer. To showcase Bartel’s artistry, here we have two numbers from my collection; first, "Ein Spiel mit der Liebe, from Dostal's Die Vielgeliebte, and then a two-aria video featuring "Ich Will Sie Lieben, Treu Und Heiss," and "Wie Gerne Sagt' Ich Ihr, " from Leo Fall's Die Dollarprinzessin"
From my experience, Bartel, though admittedly good, pales in comparison to predecessors like Groh, Anders and Fehringer. As mentioned earlier, his voice isn’t as warm as Groh’s, his singing isn’t as elegant and polished as Anders, and even if he does sing with feeling, you can’t call that emotion when you compare it to Fehringer. Nevertheless, he does give a good performance. To me, what defines his singing is its dreaminess, if not "folksiness." His singing feels quite light and is relatively easier on the ear. When he goes for the ‘’high notes.’’ the ease and smoothness with which he does it is most attractive, even if they do not "ring" like those the great opera singers deliver. There is some feeling in the performance but he gives you the impression of someone who loves rather than someone madly in love.
Of the three tenors whom Marszalek cast in his operetta broadcasts and recordings from the 60s, one of them was the provincial lyric tenor Reinhold Bartel, whom we discussed earlier. The other two were the Hungarian spinto tenor Sandor Konya and the German lyric tenor Fritz Wunderlich. Konya sang a wide range of German and Italian lyric and dramatic tenor roles as well, including Parsifal, Rodolfo, Dick Johnson and many more. Today, Konya is perhaps best remembered for being a near-perfect Lohengrin, a superb Walter, and a much-appreciated Edgardo. These achievements have overshadowed his work as a consummate operetta singer in Marszalek’s performances. Konya had been cast by Marszalek in his operetta broadcasts and his performances of the great operas in German on the radio even as he maintained his flourishing international singing career.
For Konya’s operetta work, here is an aria from Johann Strauss' Wiener Blut:
Sandor Konya’s singing can best be characterized by the ‘teardrop in his voice.’ For me, this ‘teardrop’ alone is enough to touch me and make emotions well up in my heart. He gives a melancholy performance which is at times strikingly contrasted against the backdrop of cheerful frothy Viennese dance music. Superficially, it may seem that his singing spoils the mood of the party but on deeper thought, it feels as though his character has a bitter-sweet recognition that the good times are not to last so he makes the most of every moment he has. In doing so, he sheds another light on the operetta numbers he sings, lending them meaning and giving them impact in a way no other tenor does.
Last but not least of these three tenors is one who needs little or no introduction, Fritz Wunderlich, a singer whom many feel was the greatest German tenor the world ever had. Looking through the list of recordings Franz Marszalek has made, Wunderlich’s name pops up quite often from the late 50s to the early 60s. It may be the case that Franz Marszalek saw Fritz Wunderlich as the successor to Peter Anders, something that Marszalek had been looking for. Of Wunderlich’s work for Marszalek, I have selected two highlights from Leo Fall’s most well-known work, Der Rose von Stambul, which I have uploaded in an extended video. The soprano Gretel Hartung accompanies him in the later duet.
In almost all German operettas, there are at least 2 tenors in the cast. The lead tenor will usually be a lyric tenor. The numbers which he sings are the ‘’more operatic’’ ones, show-stealing numbers similar to the arias which we hear in the opera house. Operetta excerpts which we usually hear tenors sing mostly fall under this category. Examples will be ‘’Zwei Marchenaugen,’’ ’Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’’ and ‘Komm Zigany.’’ The other type of tenor which we see is the buffo tenor. In most cases, he is either a comprimario or a singing actor. The numbers which he sings are usually lighter fare. Their purpose is often comic relief, or they might fill in the empty spaces between the show-stealing moments and the ensembles which are key to the development of the plot.
Two of Marszalek's best buffo tenors were the German Willy Hoffmann and the Austrian entertainer Peter Alexander. Historically an operatic comprimario, Willy Hoffmann eventually moved into operetta as a buffo tenor who took part in many radio and TV operetta broadcasts. His superb performances as a buffo tenor would earn him the nickname ‘’the national buffo.’’ For an idea of how a buffo tenor would appear on stage, you can watch the following video. This aria from Kalman’s Csardasfurstin is actually a duet. This, I think, was taken from a live TV performance, with Hoffmann in the flesh:
According to the definition of buffo tenor, one wouldn’t expect him to have any good musical numbers. But Hoffmann in fact did, and he even joined with the "buffa" for a good comic duet. Here is a good example, featuring Hoffmann and Rita Bartos in Jara Benes' Auf der Grunen Wiese:
Buffo Peter Alexander, on the other hand, did not come from an operatic background, but was something like the German-speaking world’s Frank Sinatra. Just as Frank Sinatra occasionally performed on Broadway, operetta was very much part of Peter Alexander’s repertoire. In the operetta broadcasts and recordings, he was good fun to listen to, bringing as much charm and sentiment to the musical numbers he sang as his operatic colleagues did. Here he is with Herta Talmar in the Piccolo-Duet from Oscar Straus’ Ein Walzertraum
Peter Alexander’s rendition of these operetta numbers harkens back to the day when they were once performed by singing actors instead of opera singers. Though his singing may not be authentic, he does what they did; delivering these numbers in the musical style of the day with a honeyed baritone that charms and touches the hearts of the audience. If that isn’t good entertainment, I honestly don’t know what is!
It may seem that I over-stress the virtues of operetta—especially as compared to opera— but actually, what I truly feel is that operetta should simply be treated the same way as opera is. Opera is unquestionably an art form which stands above all the rest and will almost certainly be preserved for posterity. However, I feel that operetta also deserves great respect and attention. It serves as a reminder of the things we have lost in a world where things are changing at a breakneck rate and competition is becoming increasingly cutthroat. Some, of course, may disagree. Being a dissenter in the past, I’ve this to say to these people. If you give Marszalek’s operetta recordings a chance to work the same kind of magic on you as it did on me, I believe that you’ll be able to see why operetta is a musical genre well worth preserving!