Michael H. Hardern
Operetta Research Center
22 July, 2015
It’s kind of special: Philipp Harnoncourt (yes, the son of the other Harnoncourt) is staging Der Zigeunerbaron at Schloss Haindorf near Langenlois, in Austria. As you are probably well aware of, this particular operetta is available on CD in a version conducted by Harnoncourt Senior that tries to be radically different, in terms of edition and arrangement of the numbers. As such, it offers some unique insights and sheds new light on the piece, even though the cast consists of opera singers that are as far removed from anything “authentic” as is possibly. Even thought Nicolas Harnoncourt claims to be one of the prime crusaders of the “historisch informierte Aufführungspraxis.” Obviously that does not apply to operetta, in this case. Nor in any other case of his various operetta outings.
Anyhow, now his son is taking on Der Zigeunerbaron. He has adapted the dialogue for this, coming up with a performance edition of his own. That’s not too unusual. (We all want to earn a few extra royalties.) What is unusual, however, is an email Mr. Harnoncourt has sent out to colleagues and friends explaining what his new production is all about. For someone out to champion operetta, even this particular and highly special Strauss operetta, some of the statements are surprising.
„Der Zigeunerbaron erzählt, davon bin ich überzeugt, eine gute und spannende Geschichte und bietet keineswegs eine blödsinnige Operettenhandlung – er handelt von den Untiefen österreichischer Bürokratie, er beschreibt Rassismus und Militarismus und propagiert dagegen eine Utopie von Freiheit, Gemeinschaftlichkeit und von der Herrschaft der Liebe. Vielleicht sollte man den anrüchigen Begriff ‚Operette‘ nicht verwenden und die Sache einfach als komödiantisches Musiktheater bezeichnen.“
Is your German up to it? His claim is that Zigeunerbaron tells “a good and gripping story.” And you wonder: was that ever in doubt? Apparently yes, because Harnoncourt emphasizes that it is “in no way a stupid operetta plot.” Instead, it’s a show about the shallowness of Austrian bureaucracy, it’s about racism and militarism, and it propagates the “utopia of freedom, community and the triumph of love.” Well, well, well …. Who would have thought it? Apparently not Harnoncourt Jr. before he started working on this production. Because he only then discovered all those great things about Der Zigeunerbaron, asking in all seriousness if “maybe one should not use the infamous term ‘operetta’ but call the whole thing ‘komödiantisches Musiktheater’.”
As you know, it’s our deep rooted belief here at the Operetta Research Center that being apologetic about the genre is the worst thing you can do, and trying to make operetta into something else that is more “noble” or basically anything but operetta, is a surefire killer for any attempt to make the true glories of the genre evident. But apparently this basic truth has not reached Langenlois, sadly.
Harnoncourt Jr. has gathered a group of soloists around him, which he claims will “stand up to any comparison.” (Comparison with whom?). One of the more interesting casting details of his production is operetta researcher Wolfgang Dosch as Conte Carnero. And yes, the Sándor Barinkay of the young and dashing Franz Gürtelschmied could almost be mistaken for Jonas Kaufmann’s twin brother.
Whether the final result will be as disturbing as the pre-premiere statements of the stage director remains to be seen. The score has been newly arranged (!) by Gerald Gratzer. (More royalties out the window.) And the production, conducted by Andreas Stoehr, opens on July 25, running till August 14. Here’s the full cast:
Sándor Barinkay: Franz Gürtelschmied
Saffi: Christina Maria Fercher
Conte Carnero: Wolfgang Dosch
Zsupan: Rupert Bergmann
Arsena: Melanie Wurzer
Mirabella: Elizabeth Hagedorn
Ottokar: Alexander Tremmel
Czipra: Elisabeth Reichart
Graf Homonay: Sébastien Soules