FRITZ WUNDERLICH - The Legend
Fritz Wunderlich, tenor; various orchestras and conductors
PROFIL PH08016 (2 disks) (F) TT: 66:00 & 54:24
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LEHÁR: Wiener Frauen (Operetta in Three Acts - Highlights). Overtures to Der Göttergatte and Wo die Lerche singt.
Anka Hoffmann, Anneli Pfeffer, sopranos; Peter Minich, Thomas Dewald, Boris Leisenheimer, tenors; Elsbieta Kalvelage, piano;l WDR Radio Chorus and Orch/Helmuth Froschauer and Curt Cremer (overtures), cond.
cpo 999 326 (F) TT: 59:50
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JOHANN STRAUSS II: Jabuka (Das Apfelfest) (Operetta in Three Acts)
Thomas Tischler, tenor (Mirko von Gradinaz); Wolfgang Veith, tenor (Vasil von Gradinaz); Michael Schober, bass (Mischa); Veronika Groiss, soprano (Jelka); Elisabeth Wolfbauer, mezzo-soprano (Petrija/Annita); Helmut Josef Ettl, baritone (Bambora); Franz Födinger, tenor (Joschko); Gaudeamus Choir Brno/Euroopean Johann Strauss Orch/Christian Pollack, cond.
NAXOS 8.660216-17 (2 disks) TT: 1:38:28
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ARRIETA: Marina. BRETÓN: La Verbena de la paloma. VIVES: Bohemios. Doña Francisquita.
Plácido Domingo, tenor; Alfredo Kraus, tenor; Maria Bayo, soprano; Luis Lima, tenor; Juan Pons, baritone; Orquesta sinfónica de Tenerife/Orquesta sinfónica de Madrid/Antoni Ros Marba and Víctor Pablo Pérez, cond.
NAÏVE V5120 (6 disks) TT: 5 hours 4 min.
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Admirers of tenor Fritz Wunderlich surely will wish to investigate Profil's 2-CD set of his earliest commercial recordings made 1955-1956, a decade before his tragic death September 17, 1966. The virile, secure beautiful voice is extraordinary in arias from Cavalleria Rusticana, Madama Butterfly, La Bohème, Zaide, Die Fledermaus, Der Bettelstudent, Die Zirkusprinzessin and Maske in Blau, all sung in German. The stereo sound is just fine, but CD notes, in German and English, are miniscule, rather inappropriate for a full-price issue.

Those who enjoy operetta surely will wish to look into these new Lehár and Johann Strauss issues. Wiener Frauen (Viennese Women) was the first of Franz Lehár's thirty-plus operettas, about the lovely girl Claire whose love for a waltz song sung by her piano teacher almost keeps her from marrying the man she loves. The had is premiere in Vienna November 21, 1902 to moderate success except for two selections: Paradise Waltz and Nechledil March. Wiener Frauen has been poorly represented on recordings although the composer recorded the overture in 1947 with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra (available on a Naxos CD of Lehár conducting Lehár). We are indebted to cpo for this recording of 14 excerpts from the operetta, along with two other overtures that apparently have never before been recorded. Jabuka was the 14th stage work of Johann Strauss Jr. The plot centers on the annual Apple Festival in Ravica, a town in Serbia, and the way young couples selected partners Jabuka was a huge success when premiered in Vienna in October 1894, and now we have what apparently is the first complete recording. The second CD is filled out with 7 "dance arrangements" of music from the operetta previously released on Marco Polo in their Johann Strauss Edition. Both of these new releases offer fine performance and excellent sonics. Neither of these two new operetta issues includes a libretto, but Naxos does provide a detailed track-by-track description of proceedings.

Listeners unfamiliar with the zarzuela have an inexpensive way to hear five of the best-known works of the genre in sterling, idiomatic performances beautifully sung by a cast that includes Plácido Domingo in La Verbena de la Paloma, and Alfredo Krauss in Marina and Doña Francisquita. Marina was recorded in 1998, La Verbena de la Paloma in 1994, the others in 1993. Krauss was 66 when Doña Francisquita was recorded, 71 when Marina was taped, but still copes admirably with the music. Soprano Maria Bayo appears in all five, Juan Pons only in Marina. Recorded sound is splendid stereo, and Naïve offers detailed program notes and libretti in Spanish, English and French (the booklet contains 190 pages!). On the negative side, each CD is in a sealed envelope (very inconvenient!) with minimal information on each. Still, these are superb performances, well recorded and at budget price. Recommended!

R.E.B. (January 2008)