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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Marszalek’s Tenors: The Standard-Bearers of Operetta (II)

Today we feature Part Two  of Mr. Darren Seacliffe's article on the tenors of Franz Marszalek!

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!  


Edmund St. Austell said...

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Darren Seacliffe for this excellent two-part article on operetta. It is a very scholarly and most well-illustrated study, which is an unusual and very much appreciated contribution to Great Opera Singers. Please accept my congratulations, and permit me to wish you great future success with your scholarly and critical writing!

Anonymous said...

I second that thought, Edmund. I have always been an operetta enthusiast, and this is first class. I enjoyed it greatly! Thanks to Mr. Seacliffe,

Lester Deutelbaum

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Deutelbaum! I appreciate the comment!

JDHobbes said...

It's curious to think about Fritz Wunderlich doing so much operetta, especially considering how relatively little international operatic work he did. It almost seems as though he had a kind of natural preference to do lighter work. He could have had a fantastic international career in opera. Not only his voice but his musicianship was highly praised. Fischer Dieskau complained bitterly about what a terrible loss to the world of great music Wunderlich's death represented. It just seems a little strange to think of Marszalek developing Wunderlich, as it were, as an operetta singer. Nothing wrong with operetta, but outside Germany and Austria, it just doesn't seem to command the respect or present the same economic opportunities as opera."

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you, Mr. Hobbes, for an interesting comment! Yes, I know what you mean. I think Wunderlich was on the verge of making a big international push in opera at the time of his death, but you are right: given the fact that he died in his mid-thirties, it does seem a bit late in the day, as it were. Perhaps Mr. Seacliffe will have something to say in that regard.

Anonymous said...

This has been an interesting piece. I have learned a lot reading it; I wish I could make a more informed comment, but its all new to me. Really interesting, though! Thanks to Mr. Seacliffe!


Edmund St. Austell said...

You're not alone, Martha. Operetta is not as known to us here in the US as it is in Europe. I think this is one of the things Mr. Seacliffe is hoping to help correct! And I agree, the article is most interesting! Thanks so much for the comment!

Anonymous said...

I'm very sympathetic to what Seacliffe is doing here, but I have a certain problem with operetta, and that is that there is such a wide range of quality in it. It sometimes seems as though operetta should be compared to the music hall, or perhaps to musical comedy, and not to opera. When we get down to buffo tenors or buffa sopranos, or "Germany's Frank Sinatra," aren't we really talking something that has almost nothing to do with opera? Operetta shares the name of opera, and represents it as 'little opera," but where does that leave comic opera? Is comic opera like operetta? Do they share the same qualities? Or is it simply that "operetta" is something between show business and operatic parody?

Jefferson D.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you. That's an interesting but tough question. Perhaps Mr. Seacliffe will address himself to it; I'm not sure I could answer that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Mr. Seacliffe for another great article. It seems to me that he could write an encyclopedia of operetta. His knowledge is very impressive.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you Natalie! And yes, I agree with you. Most impressive. Happy New Year to you and your family!

Darren Seacliffe said...

To Jefferson D. : Comic opera is purely opera. Yes, there is a connection between operetta and comic opera. The first French and German 'operettas' can be traced to the French opera-comiques of the first half of the 19th century and the Singspiel of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There are some qualities that they do share. Firstly, they were the popular entertainment of their time. Secondly, they did have singing actors in their cast. For example, when Die Zauberflote was premiered, not all the singers in its first cast were actually opera singers. Some of them like the first Papageno were singing actors.

If you're thinking about Mozart's comedies and the Italian opera buffa as comic opera, here's how I place them. I'll say that though Nozze, Cosi and Don Giovanni are 'comedies', they weren't popular entertainment of Mozart's time. They were fully-fledged classical operas, something like Gluck's, if you ask me. As for the Italian opera buffa, think about it this way. In France and Germany, opera was for the upper classes and operetta was for the working class but in Italy, opera was for everybody. Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, Verdi and Puccini all composed works for the public, both rich and poor. In them, there's an emotional and psychological depth which isn't as profound as those which you find the German and French operas. It's the same as how there's nothing much to probe in an operetta.

As for the musical differences, I've this to say. Comic opera is a lighter form of opera but how light is it actually? Just as I've listened to most operettas, I've listened to most comic operas. Whether it's Neapolitan opera buffa, farce or comic opera, when I listen, I feel I don't laugh at who or what I'm listening. The laughing comes after you think about it. I don't feel the same way about operetta. I just laugh. Besides, in comic opera, you need trained singers in all the roles, even the small ones. The numbers aren't the sort just about anybody can sing. They all require a certain amount of technical proficiency.

About your last question, if you compare musical theater to the movies, I'll say that operas are the films and operettas are the spoofs of these films and the more lighthearted comedies.

Darren Seacliffe said...

To Mr. Hobbes, from what I have found out recently, even in Germany and Austria, operetta doesn't command the respect or present the same economic opportunities as opera. I can't do anything about the economic opportunities but through this article, I'm hoping to do something about the respect part.

Yes, Wunderlich did sing a considerable amount of operetta but on the other hand, he sang a lot of sacred music. He has left behind several oratorios like Haydn's The Creation. I'm not sure about cantatas but I think he did sing a fair number though how many survive on record, that I don't know. As for opera, maybe he didn't get to perform abroad much but in Germany and Austria, he was quite successful. You see several live performances. It's a pity that he took his time in moving on to heavier roles. I think that's why we don't get to hear him in most of the great tenor roles unlike his predecessor Anders. He certainly sang more Mozart. As for lieder, he only went into it late into his career so he left quite little in the genre.

About Marszalek, I don't think it's that strange. Wunderlich later came to be known as the king of operetta. Marszalek may have had a part to play in it.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Very well said, Darren! Yes, that makes sense!

Stephen said...

You referred above to Herbert Ernst Groh, and I believe that, sadly, he too often is forgotten because of his shortened career. The war interrupted his career, and then he died earlier than I would have wished. In addition to the warmth of his voice, which you mentioned, he had a musical sensitivity to performance too often lacking with better known tenors, including some very famous ones of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. For example, I have listened countless times to a variety of tenors singing the popular Rosenkavalier aria “Di rigori armato il seno.” For us lovers of Baroque opera, we understand Strauss’ mild satire of the genre; yet the wonderfully beautiful melody and phrasing deserve the level of musicality delivered by Groh and not to be belted out, as is done too often with some famous tenors.

Darren Seacliffe said...

Dear Stephen,

In my humble opinion, I feel that the war did have some impact on his career but it wasn't the main reason why Groh became forgotten. Groh as you know replaced Tauber on the radio, eventually becoming one of the German world's most popular singers during Hitler's time. The war did change all that but I feel it was more a change in the populace's musical tastes than through anything on Groh's part. Groh continued to be active on the radio scene after the war, taking part in several operetta broadcasts, some of which are in my collection. In fact it was these performances rather than his pre-war ones which made me like him. If you're interested, the ones I can most recommend are his Maske in Blau and Ein Walzertraum.
You can find his Maske in Blau on my channel DarrenSeacliffe90 and his Ein Walzertraum on the channel tigervonwhiskeypur