Operetta Research Center
26 June, 2021
You need to read this announcement very carefully: the opera house in Dortmund has released a statement that says they plan to reconstruct the “musical specialties” of the legendary 1928 Lustige Witwe production by Erik Charell. That’s the production that starred Fritzi Massary and Max Hansen, with a newly arranged jazz score, new lyrics by Rudolf Schanzer and Ernst Welisch, and with a decidedly wicked 1920s flair. Many directors have wanted to put it on again, in the wake of the new Weimar Republic craze, publisher Felix Bloch Erben searched everywhere for the material – without success. And now Dortmund is putting it on nonetheless?
If you look at the small print it says that this is a “new version [of Merry Widow] as a revue operetta by Thomas Enzinger and Jenny W. Gregor” with music by Franz Lehár “following a historic original,” newly arranged by Henning Hagedorn and Matthias Grimminger.
So, in other words, this is a totally new version that takes some basic Charell ideas as a basis, ideas that can be found in the surviving programs where there’s a scene-by-scene description of the newly arranged story, there’s also a printed booklet of the new song lyrics. However, there’s no surviving copy of the dialogue or any of the big dance numbers, let alone an indication of how the revue was structured musically. All we have are the surviving recordings, mainly Massary’s songs, as some sort of indication.
Now, you could attempt to bring the well-documented Massary style to any Witwe production by casting the operetta in the spirit of Charell. But Dortmund has announced that soprano Irina Simmes will take on the title role: she sings Pamina in Zauberflöte, Countess in Nozze di Figaro, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni and Violetta in Traviata. That is decidedly not (!) what Massary sang and not the kind of voice even remotely reminiscent of the 1928 production.
South Koream tenor Sungho Kim is slated to sing Camille. His regular repertoire is Belmonte, not Max Hansen’s tongue in cheek Schlager and operetta selections. (Hansen recorded Danilo’s music, but was cast as Rossillon.)
And whether South Korean coloratura soprano Sooneon Lee can do justice to the snappy dance numbers of Valencienne is a big questionmark. On the recent double disc released by Truesound Transfers you can hear what Charell had his Valencienne do – and that is certainly very different to what that role usually has to do.
In a Facebook comment, Truedsound Transfer’s Christian Zwarg states: “This is obviously a new version made freely and sold falsely under the label ‘1928 version.’ […] At best it’s a transcription of the old recordings. […] It’s the usual mislabeling done by modern musical theater companies. […] They hope that noone will notice whether this is good or even correct.“
So is it all a gigantic swindle?
To give it a semblance of “seriousness” (which Mr. Enziger did not display when he directed White Horse Inn in Dortmund, supposedly in the 1930s jazz version but without an ounce of jazz!) the company is hosting a symposium before opening night in January 2022 with guests such as Philipp Armbruster, Matthias Grimminger, Henning Hagedorn and Florian Ziemen discussing the question of “historically informed performance practice.” You might notice that Mr. Enziger’s name is not on the list.
On the positive side: Evamaria Mayer is in charge of the choreography, so there is a ray of hope! Matthias Störmer will play Danilo, after having performed a dashing Leopold in White Horse Inn in Dortmund.