Leo Fall’s “Die Dollarprinzessin” With Ulf Schirmer From Munich

Kevin Clarke
Operetta Research Center
14 November, 2019

As part of their ongoing Leo Fall series, the label cpo has released a full cast album of Die Dollarprinzessin, based on a 2012 live performance of the Münchner Rundfunkorchester conducted by Ulf Schirmer. It makes me seriously wonder what is going on with the so called German operetta revival down in Bavaria, because this new complete recording sounds more old fashioned than the 1963 abridged version from Munich featuring Sari Barabas and Heinz Hoppe, and it doesn’t compare too favorably with the 1964 full radio recording either with the Cologne forces under Franz Marszalek. Is this what cpo and Mr. Schirmer consider progress?

The cover for the cpo edition of Leo Fall's "Die Dollarprinzessin."

The cover for the cpo edition of Leo Fall’s “Die Dollarprinzessin.”

If you listen to the old Munich version and the verve with which conductor Carl Michaelski dives into the famous opening chorus of the typewriting secretaries who work for US billionaire John Couder, it’s almost sobering to hear the somewhat dragging way this gloriously orchestrated number is executed here.

But the really sobering experience starts when the soloists come in: Christiane Libor as Couder’s emancipated daughter Alice sounds like she’s stepped straight out of an older Pirates of Penzance recording where she sang Ruth. Her voice – as heard on record – sounds unsnappy. There is no elegant slenderness to her singing, no touch of bitchiness, no erotic allure either, which makes her seem entirely unbelievable in a role created by Mizzi Günther in Vienna and by Lily Elsie in London.

Mizzi Günther holding a cigarette in her hand as Alice Couder in "Die Dollarprinzessin," as seen in the original production in Vienna. (Photo: Theatermuseum Wien)

Mizzi Günther holding a cigarette in her hand as Alice Couder in “Die Dollarprinzessin,” as seen in the original production in Vienna. (Photo: Theatermuseum Wien)

It actually gets worse once the dialogue begins, demonstrating that operetta singers today have enormous difficulty coping with spoken words and getting a hilarious story with all the jokes and puns across.

Listening to Miss Libor and heavy-duty Thomas Mohr as Mr. Couder is an exercise in boredom. And the others involved in Munich are not much better, sadly. With the exception of Ferdinand von Bothmer who exudes a certain Max Raabe charm in the dialogue scenes that’s very fitting for the role of Fredy Wehrburg (created by Louis Treumann in 1907). Unfortunately, as soon as Mr. von Bothmer starts singing the Max Raabe touch is gone, and all you get is just another anonymous interpretation without distinctive qualities.

Joseph Coyne in "The Dollar Princess" in London where he was the partner of Lily Elsie.

Joseph Coyne in “The Dollar Princess” in London where he was the partner of Lily Elsie. The role was renamed, from Fredy to Harry.

It all makes me wonder why on earth the Munich orchestra and Mr. Schirmer haven’t hired performers who could bring something new and fresh to this piece about super rich Americans and impoverished Europeans. Performers who would have something different to offer than Herta Talmar, Herbert Ernst Groh and Willy Hofmann had to offer back in Cologne 1964, or Heinz Hoppe/Harry Friedauer in Munich 1963.

Yes, the new 2 CD version includes much more music than either of the previous versions. But that alone is not enough, for me at least.

Considering that Dollarprinzessin triumphed most in the West End and on Broadway, outrunning the Viennese version by far, and considering that there is no full cast album available of either these two historic English language versions, I am puzzled that cpo hasn’t considered recording the successful London version translated for George Edward, with extra music by Leo Fall’s brother Richard. On Broadway there was even more extra music, in this case by Jerome Kern plus Richard Fall. Such an English language recording based on original material would have made Leo Fall newly interesting to a much wider audience, especially if the conductor had decided on a musical comedy cast that would give more bounce to this transatlantic story which has lost little of its bite and relevance.

The title page of the piano score for "Die Dollarprinzessin" by Leo Fall.

The title page of the piano score for “Die Dollarprinzessin” by Leo Fall.

And even if it must be a German version, then there are so many new performers out there today who could emphasize the musical comedy side of this show and carry it easily into the 21st century. It seems the cpo/Munich Symphony Orchestra executives are not interested in such an enterprise. And so you get yet another “unremarkable” operetta on disc. (Of course, Dollarprinzessin is anything but unremarkable in terms of score and story.)

Lily Elsie as a very glamorous "Dollarprinzessin" in London.

Gabrielle Ray as Daisy in “Die Dollarprinzessin” in London.

The fact that cpo waited since 2012 to release the recording might be an indication that they themselves had doubts about the enterprise, too. Still, it’s a wasted opportunity. And since the recording spreads onto two full price discs, it’s not even a real bargain opportunity.

If you want to make up your own mind, you can listen to this cpo recording on Spotify.

There are 5 comments

  1. Philip Carli

    I’m going to listen – I haven’t yet – but frankly I would much prefer hearing a German version with its often _priginally_racy language than ANY English-language version, especially with what I consider intrusive “musical comedy” elements like the Kern interpolation. Leo Fall is Leo Fall, Richard Fall is Richard FallKern is Kern, Joseph Coyne couldn’t sing, and any modern translation would be “modern”. The original recordings with Fall conducting are so exciting and forward moving that I cannot conceive of ANY current orchestra that would play the music with such energy and “snap” – they’re too concerned with “perfection”, and that slows things down. I’d give a great deal to hear all of the recordings Fall conducted, and I’d give as much or more to hear the complete 1908 Berlin _Die lustige Witwe_ as it _includes dialogue_; I own one disc from it, the “Weibermarsch” on one side and the other having the succeeding dialogue. Any way, I’ll give this Dollarprinzessin a try – I’m most interested in the 2nd act finale – and hope Christian Zqarg or someone puts out the 1908 Lehar. But I’d much rather hear a Princess show than Kern showing up in a Viennese work, good as his piece _might_ be.

  2. Philip Carli

    And I apologize for my typing mistakes – the colour’s a bit hard to read – but I should mention the London version was for George _Edwardes_. not “Edward” as you put down. It was probably just a slip like mine were.

  3. David Wheeler

    The 90s broadcast with Nigel Douglas, Vivian Tierney, Mark Curtis, Sandra Dygdal

  4. David Wheeler

    The 90s BBC broadcast with Vivian Tierney, Nigel Douglas, Mark Curtis, Sandra Dugdale and Justin Lavender is one I treasure. Tierney is a class act as Alice, bitchy, confident, feminine with sensuous singing

  5. Robert WENNERSTEN

    The 1953 Marzalek Kaiserin recording solved the singers/actors problem by having two casts, one singers and one actors.

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