Der Wildschutz (excerpts)
In comparison to French opéras comiques, German comic operas with spoken dialogue have always struggled to maintain a foothold in the repertory, a state of affairs that begs a number of questions. After all, one of the best-known representatives of the genre, Albert Lortzing (1801–51), successfully combined the most disparate elements in his stage works: witty librettos with a dash of social criticism, great ensembles in the Mozartian manner and Romantic melodies and orchestral colours. All these features are found in Der Wildschütz, a comedy of mistaken identity that the Vienna State Opera staged in 1960 with a finely balanced and ebulliently witty ensemble headed by Irmgard Seefried, whose Baroness is a precursor of Lehár’s Merry Widow, seeking a new husband in a whole series of new disguises. In the role of the Baron, Waldemar Kmentt once again proves an ideal partner in every sense of the term, his youthful tenor both radiant and powerful. In Georg Völker’s Count he has a rival who at the end of the work generously admits that he has been courting his own sister – in Lortzing’s opera the incestuous entanglement eschews the tragic outcome found in Wagner’s Die Walküre, a work in which the baritone’s father, Franz Völker, had scored some of his greatest successes. In the 1960 Vienna production, the aristocrats’ social inferiors were played by no less distinguished singing actors: Renate Holm is an altogether ravishing Gretchen with her clearly focussed light soprano voice, while opposite her – confirming the proverb that opposites exert a magical attraction – is Karl Dönch in the part of her elderly fiancé, who is also the alleged poacher of the title. His ability to point up the text and bring original insights to the part in the finest buffo tradition confirms the reputation of Vienna’s opera ensemble during the post-war period, a reputation based on its impressively large number of distinctive personalities. The conductor in 1960 was Heinz Wallberg, who coaxes from his soloists, chorus and orchestra a performance that reveals their evident delight in the task in hand, while the spoken dialogue, as rehearsed by the director Adolf Rott, is a source of unbounded delight.