New Recording from Graz: Nico Dostal’s “Clivia” on cpo

John Groves
Operetta Research Center
22 July, 2023

Nico Dostal scored a hit with his Clivia when it premiered at Berlin’s Theater am Nollendorfplatz in December 1933, after the Nazi takeover and the start of a new “Aryan” era in German operetta history. The piece was written for Dostal’s wife, famed coloratura soprano Lillie Claus (Alban Berg’s first choice for Lulu). She recorded excerpts from the show and still sounds glorious 90 years later. In the 1950s the young Anneliese Rothenberger recorded Clivia – just like she recorded almost everything else in the operetta repertoire – and highlight versions with Margit Schramm/Rudolf Schock as well as with Renate Holm/Peter Minich are available from the 1970s. Now, the label cpo has released a complete Clivia on CD, recorded with the forces of Oper Graz, where the revival initiated by Komische Oper Berlin and Geschwister Pfister lead to a new production in 2021.

The "Clivia" recording from Graz. (Photo: cpo)

The “Clivia” recording from Graz. (Photo: cpo)

The production of Nico Dostal’s Clivia at Komische Oper Berlin in March 2014 was, I think, my most memorable evening at the theatre – ever! The staging was spectacular, especially the transformation scene between the two scenes of Act One which followed the “Cowboys and Indians!” routine of the opening. Then, directly after was the chorus of Amazonians – so clever, so funny, yet in reality quite simply staged, letting this marvellous operetta speak for itself!

If you don’t believe me, and even if you do, have a look at Richard Norton’s article (click here) in which, having had a disappointing two days in Berlin, he was quickly won over by this show!

In Berlin, there were magnificent performances from Christoph Marti as peroxide Hollywood film star Clivia Gray, and her love interest Juan Damigo was played by Marti’s real-life husband Tobias Bonn. Norton gives a summary of the plot, so I won’t attempt to, and as so often, cpo’s booklet writer leaves one totally confused!

I saw the Berlin production several times, and I think it was the most successful of all the operettas staged whilst Barrie Kosky was at KOB, even though this was directed by Stefan Huber.

Oper Graz Continues the Dostal Revival
Now to the new cpo recording: I do wish that cpo would have a consistent policy regarding dialogue in their operetta recordings. This particular recording, which hails from a 2021 Graz production, does not include dialogue even though the total playing time, spread over two CDs, is only 85 minutes. Perhaps one does not wish to hear the dialogue every time, but if it is “tracked” it is easy to programme the recording in order to omit it. Also, the co-librettist, Charles Amberg, has recently been the recipient of a new biography (click here for more details), and it would be good to hear some of his best work.

Cpo’s recording appears musically complete, certainly when compared with Wilhelm Stephan’s 1951 Hamburg recording which contains only 58 minutes. There is another “almost complete” radio recording with Renata Holm which I have not heard and a recording of six excerpts sung by Rudolf Schock and Margit Schramm. This is conducted by the composer, having been recorded in stereo in the early 1970s, and to hear it you would think that Clivia was a very serious opera as only “romantic” numbers are included and Dostal takes extremely slow speeds!

Back to cpo. Sieglinde Feldhofer is very much an operatic soprano with a pleasant voice who tries to get the style needed. It is only when you listen to Anneliese Rothenberger on Stephan’s recording that you realise what you are missing. She is so light and graceful and the character shines through all the time – she instinctively seems to know how the music should “go”. Just listen to Feldhofer’s duet with Juan “Schon die alten Chinesen” which she oversings as if it is grand opera instead of an up-tempo dance number.

Juan is sung by Matthias Koziorowski on the new recording, and I am afraid he is no match for Rupert Glawitsch, who sings the role opposite Rothenberger. This is mainly because Koziorowski’s voice sounds very strained, and actually unpleasant whenever he attempts to sing above the stave, as if he is really a baritone. One wonders why he was cast in this role! Some of his numbers are painful to listen to … luckily one can skip tracks!

“Wir sind Mädchen von Heute”
Anna Brutt has fun with Jola, leader of the “Amazons” in Act One Scene Two (“Wir sind Mädchen von Heute”), as does Ivan Orescanin as the reporter Lelio Down. I still remember Peter Renz in this role at KOB – totally hilarious. Their Act Two Charleston duet “Sie sind so sympathisch” is as much fun as it should be – a wonderful uplifting number (if you don’t know the show, there are lots of uplifting songs – you can omit the slushy, romantic numbers, especially “Wunderbar, wie nie ein Wunder war”, which is not a pleasant experience, tenor wise!).

Markus Butter is E. W. Patterton, an American businessman (and a very unsympathetic anti-semitic charicature that Stefan Kurt in Berlin managed to salvage somewhat). Butter’s trio with Lelio “Kleines sag mir” (in fast waltz time) is stylish, Juan being almost hidden. Marius Burkert, the conductor, imbues this with a true sense of energy and style as he does all the score, and the Graz Philharmoniker respond well … until you hear what Wilhelm Stephan does with the same music: he is able to give the score a lightness of touch and humour that seems instinctive and, much as I love all the songs, seems able to make the music appear of higher quality than perhaps it is – though I think it is of very high quality!

I think that Clivia is a great operetta by a very underrated operetta composer and librettists. This new recording is essential if you want to hear all the music – and it is all worth hearing –, but it does not displace Rothenberger et al in my affections!

For more information and to order the CD, click here.