Weill: Der Kuhhandel [Import]
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Opérette en 2 actes / Ursula Pfitzner (Juanita Sanchez), Dietmar Kerschbaum (Juan Santos), Michael Kraus (Mr. Jones), Carlo Hartmann (Präsident Mendez), W. Gratschmaier (Ximenez)... - Chor und Orchester der Volksoper Wien - Christoph Eberle, direction
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This fairly obscure work, rarely produced until recently, comes from just about the middle of Weill's career. Written in Paris, shortly after the composer fled Nazi Germany, there are major references to the evils of German fascism in particular and governments in general.
The original libretto also satirized unscrupulous US capitalism, in the person of a crooked arms dealer who personifies early globalization, interfering with and destabilizing the lives of simple people. That and the fact that this is neither a museum piece favored by opera houses nor something that could ever pass for "cutting edge", makes it seem unlikely there will ever be a major production in America.
Der Kuhhandel is a beautiful operetta (echos of Offenbach, with a waltz to match Lehar). If Weill's later Broadway output seems at odds with his German work this score provides as good a bridge as you will find--there are some elements of both here.
Sound and video for live performances have come a long way in the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, as with other video recordings of Weill productions, the sound gets a little muddy at some of the most breathtaking and complex orchestral/choral moments (but then that's what studio-recorded CDs are for I suppose).
Now if someone could just produce and film Weill and Paul Green's anti-war musical-tragicomedy Johnny Johnson (another of Weill's very clever and charming and mostly unknown scores.)
But the music? You will immediately recognize the Weill style. Much of it seems like the earlier works such as Three Penny Opera, but softened. It is somewhere between Happy End and Lost in the Stars. A lot of the score sounds like variants on his other works. Indeed I wonder whether the producers didn't crib some of the music from elsewhere. But there is some wonderful music to be found here. Weill's gifts for melody are here in abundance. If you really like Weill you should enjoy this piece.
The singers on the whole are very good to acceptable. The production doesn't try to inflict some extraneous element onto the play: it's about a boy and his cow versus the brutal state. But forget about the book and settle back and enjoy Weill's gifts from waltz to tango, from song to ensemble - it is a glorious night of song and hopefully this DVD will spur other productions.
My rating is not based on the aesthetics of this production as compared to either Weill's or any other composer of theatrical musicals. Rather, it is strictly consonant with Amazon's definition, how much did I like it. What I intend to convey was that I enjoyed this vehicle not only for its significance in understanding one of my favorite composers of theater music but for its own merit as a kind-of-knockabout "let's put on a show" offering. For one who can get into the mood of a 'lets take this music with this kind of "fun" book" and see what we can do with it" approach, it makes for an enjoyable evening. For one who is looking for a mega-expensive Broadway crowd pleaser, this might well be an awful bore.