Basic Operetta Opinions: 11 Questions For Ethel Merhaut

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
22 March, 2021

Soprano Ethel Merhaut is part of the “young musical scene of Vienna” and likes to “use lots of charme and musical dedication to dust off chansons, foxtrots, film music and tangos from the 1920s and 30s,” she says on her homepage. Her first album Out of Sight came out in 2017, it focuses on forgotten “Wienerlieder” and Yiddish tangos, which she performed together with Bela Koreny, Julian Rachlin, Andreas Ottensamer and Roby Lakatos. In March 2021 her first solo album followed, Süß & Bitter. It offers various operetta songs by authors persecuted by the Nazis because they were Jewish or homosexual or otherwise considered “unwanted.” (For a review, click here.) We asked Ethel Merhaut for a quick interview and some of her basic operetta opinions. Here they are.

Soprano Ethel Merhaut from Vienna. (Photo: Mato Johannik)

Soprano Ethel Merhaut from Vienna. (Photo: Mato Johannik)

First operetta love/encounter?
“Lieber Freund, man greift nicht nach den Sternen,“ sung by Lucia Popp and Nicolai Gedda. That is perfection!

But my first operetta love is probably hearing Richard Tauber sing!

Peter Alexander or Max Hansen?
Peter Alexander – since I grew up seeing his face on television. Also, I think he is a great artist and entertainer! I loved his show on ORF with Robert Stolz on the piano … beautiful!

Worst operetta experience ever?
The moment the diva came out on stage and looked like a farmer’s wife…

Most cherished historical jazz version of an operetta song?
The first thing that comes to my mind is not an operetta song but “I feel pretty“ sung by Sarah Vaughn. Incredible!

Funniest operetta interpretation?
Definitely this…

Willi Forst’s movie Operette or Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow with Mae Murray in the title role?
That is a difficult question since they are so different: 1925 vs. 1940. Film during that time developed so quickly. Operette is very entertaining and a sort of love song to Vienna, as well as to operetta as a genre! The Merry Widow is much more sophisticated from a filmic perspective and somehow incredibly modern!

John Gilbert as Danilo, seducing May Murray in Erich von Stroheim's "The Merry Widow," 1925. (Photo: Staatsoperette Dresden)

John Gilbert as Danilo, seducing May Murray in Erich von Stroheim’s “The Merry Widow,” 1925. (Photo: Staatsoperette Dresden)

Favorite Tonfilmoperette from Germany, Austria or Hollywood?
A Woman Commands (Um eine Fürstenkrone) with Pola Negri from 1932. The scene in which she sings “Paradies“ is unbelievable!

Most irritating cliché about operetta as a genre?
That it is easy to sing…

Anneliese Rothenberger or Elisabeth Schwarzkopf?
Anneliese Rothenberger, because I find her voice much more honest.

Fritzi Massary or Gitta Alpar?
Gitta Alpar for glamour , Fritzi for authenticity.

A caricature of Gitta Alpar, as seen in a Berlin newspaper in the late 1920s.

A caricature of Gitta Alpar, as seen in a Berlin newspaper in the late 1920s.

Greatest operetta goal for the post-Covid-19 era?
I am curious what an operetta evening with my jazz combo sounds like ….

In June 2021 Ethel Merhaut and the Anna Rothschild Ensemble plan to present their program See you in Hollywood! at the Vienna Konzerthaus.