ZELLER: Der Vogelhändler / Elena Puszta, soprano (Electress Marie); Dagmar Schellenberger, soprano (Baroness Adelaide); Bernhard Bechtold, tenor (Adam, a bird seller); Rupert Bergmann, bass-baritone (Baron Weps); Maximilian Mayer, tenor (Count Stanislaus); Wolfgang Dosch, tenor (Professor Süffle); Gerhart Ernst, baritone (Professor Würmchen); Martina Fender, soprano (Postmistress Christel); Raimund Stangl, tenor (Mayor Schneck); Mörbisch Festival Orchestra & Chorus; Gerrit Preißnitz, conductor / Oehms Classics OC-461
I’ve never been much of an operetta fan. Can’t stomach Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus or most of the Franz Lehar things except for The Merry Widow, but I’ve always had a soft spot for two gems from the late 19th century, Carl Millöcker’s Der Bettelstudent and Carl Zeller’s Der Vogelhändler, for no other reason but that the music is so much fun to listen to. There was an old (early 1960s) EMI recording of Vogelhändler with Renate Holm, Adolf Dallapozza, Anneliese Rothenberger, Walter Berry and Gerhard Unger, conducted by veteran operetta maestro Willi Boskovsky, but I haven’t heard it in years and honestly don’t recall it.
This one most definitely sparkles from first note to last, and in operettas, sparkle is what you want. More importantly, all the lead singers have fine voices, and that, too, is what you want. This is especially crucial in the four major roles, Adam (the bird seller of the title), Christel (his girl friend), Baron Weps, and Electress Marie. As for the plot, it is typically silly fare. The Elector Prince wants to hunt for a wild boar and receive a “ceremonial maiden,” male chauvinist pig that he is, but the Bergermeister can’t provide him with either. A waitress suggests the postmistress Christel as the latter because her boyfriend Adam is too poor to move into the community and marry her. Christel tells Adam that she is planning to petition the court to find him a job in the town so he can afford the wedding. Being a proud Tyrolean male, Adam doesn’t want his bride-to-be to be the one to find him a job, so he offers Baron Weps a beautiful yellow bird as a bribe to help him.
Meanwhile, Electress-Princess Marie arrives in disguise, hoping to catch the Elector in flagrante with the ceremonial maiden by posing as the maiden herself. Christel ends up in the pavilion with Count Stanislaus, thinking him the Elector. Adam arrives to find the Hunt Master and the Burgomeister informing him that Christel is the ceremonial maiden, and is therefore not in the crowd. Marie, hoping to save Adam from embarrassment, offers him the bouquet of roses which she has brought in case her plan to become the ceremonial maiden works out. Adam, thinking of his own Tyrolen behavior code, somehow thinks himself to have been promised to Marie and Christel to have been promised to the Elector. He thus publicly breaks off his engagement to Christel. Somehow all this confusion gets worked out in brilliant, attractive arias and ensembles, all of which are presented here minus the spoken dialogue (which non-Germans couldn’t care less about anyway).
For the most part, Zeller’s music is flat-out amazing, showing everyone just how many good tunes could be written in 3/4 time…the tempo taken for most of the operetta, except for the few (like the finale) written in a fast-paced, bouncy 4. Adam’s aria, “Wie mein Ahnl zwanzig Jahre,” is probably the most famous set-piece in the operetta, having been recorded in days of yore by such famous tenors as Richard Tauber, Marcel Wittrisch and Nicolai Gedda. Naturally, all of these had much better voices per se than the usual tenors cast as Adam, but Bernhard Bechtold is up to the task, not only stylish but able to manage the difficult soft high notes with ease. The one thing I missed, which both Tauber and Wittrisch had in their recordings, was the mechanical bird in the background. I mean, gee whiz, as long as you’re going to spend this much money on a new recording, ya couldn’t afford a mechanical bird to twitter in the background of Adam’s aria? Cheapskates! But as I say, everyone is into their roles, they have good voices, and boy oh boy does conductor Prießnitz whip up the chorus and orchestra. A good time is had by all.
If you enjoy this operetta as much as I do, this is a sure-fire recording.
—© 2017 Lynn René Bayley
Follow me on Twitter! @Artmusiclounge