The Listener

It’s Christmas. You don’t want Götterdämmerung. You want a waltz-operetta

15 December 2018

9:00 AM

15 December 2018

9:00 AM

Grade: A–

1898: two Parisiennes and a housemaid secretly invite each other’s partners to the Paris Opera ball and… c’mon, you can guess the rest. It’s Christmas: you don’t want Götterdämmerung. You want luxury, you want tunes and you want irresponsible fun. Richard Heuberger’s waltz-operetta Der Opernball is basically a deluxe box of musical liqueur chocolates, and it’s never been easier to guzzle the lot.

Heuberger was a moonlighting music critic (he famously remarked that Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht sounds ‘like someone smeared the score of Tristan while the ink was still wet’), and he was working to a tight deadline. But good things happen under pressure, and at least one number from Der Opernball — the insidiously sexy ‘Im chambre séparée’ — has been covered by everyone from Anna Netrebko to Harry Secombe. This is the first modern recording of the entire score and, from dashing overture to throwaway conclusion, it fizzes.

There’s good news for opera nerds too. Heuberger delegated his orchestrations to the patriarch of Viennese musical modernism Alexander von Zemlinsky, so you can hum those toothsome little melodies with your highbrow credentials intact.

Nobody casts big-name singers in operetta recordings these days, more’s the pity, but the performers in this 2016 Graz Opera production are nothing if not game. The men sound dapper, the soubrette is properly saucy and conductor Marius Burkert wears his Viennese style so seductively that by the time you’re slipping between the silk sheets of that chambre séparée you no longer care how you got there. That’s for tomorrow morning.

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