SALUTE TO VIENNA
THE STRAUSS SYMPHONY OF AMERICA (1-1-06)
By Lawrence Budmen
What better way to celebrate the New Year than with the frothy musical confections of Johann Strauss, Jr. and the Viennese waltz kings? A delightful evening of waltz and polka delicacies (with aural whipped cream) graced the Salute to Vienna concert on January 1 at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach (produced by Attila Glatz Concert Productions).Christian Schulz, an authentic Viennese conductor, led the Strauss Symphony of America in a joyous program of music that spanned the ballroom and operetta stages of the Vienna-Prague-Budapest musical empire.
The ebullient Schulz opened the evening with a crisp, incisive performance of Mozartís Overture to The Abduction from the Seraglio (in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composerís birth). The polished playing of the ensemble and Schulzís lively conducting made the entire program one marvelous party (mostly in three quarter time). Schulz gave Straussís Thunder and Lightning Polka the bubbly fizz of good champagne Ė perfect for a New Yearís celebration. The Overture to Straussís A Night in Venice literally sparkled with Schulzís lilting evocation of the waltz and the orchestraís opulent playing. Schulz led a lithe, delightful rendition of Straussís Leichtes Blut Polka that was great fun.A veteran opera conductor, Schulz provided beautifully gauged, gleaming support to the eveningís vocal soloists and high spirited accompaniment to the balletic sequences.
Canadian-Viennese soprano Ingrid Mankhof, a glamorous blonde beauty, is the perfect operetta heroine. With an effortless light soprano and passionate expressivity, her singing was utterly captivating. She brought Hungarian languor and Gypsy fire to an aria from Countess Maritza by Emmerich Kalman. Her lithe, insinuating manner in the aria Meine Lippen, Sie kussen so heiss from Leharís Giuditta was well nigh perfect. Has this evergreen ever been as well sung? She was joined by Viennese tenor Wolfgang Gratschmaier in beguiling duets from Leharís The Land of Smiles and The Merry Widow. A pupil of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and a member of the Vienna Volksoper, Gratschmaier is a seasoned performer and a theatrical presence to be reckoned with Ė pure showbiz. With a virile voice and schmaltzy manner, he captivated the audience with his renditions of Maxims from The Merry Widow and an aria from Leharís Paganini. (Many of Leharís operettas were written for Richard Tauber, one of the greatest Viennese tenors of the 20th century.)
Members of the Vienna Opera Ballet joined the festivities for the Sirens of the Ball Waltzes from Leharís The Merry Widow and Straussís Magyar Czardas and Wiener Blut Waltzes. With colorful, stylish costumes by Pavel Knolle and zippy, witty choreography by David Slobaspyckyj, the dancers brought high spirited abandon and imperial elegance to the stage, abetted by Schulzís swirling musical background. Indeed the Czardas really had fiery pizzazz.
Encores were generous indeed. In the obligatory Blue Danube Waltz, international ballroom champions Jozsef Szepesi and Judit Szepesi and Attila Budai and Szilvia Laszlo swirled joyously to Straussís immortal waltz rhythms Ė an authentic snapshot of the musicís genesis in the ballrooms of imperial Vienna. Mankhof and Gratschmaier sang the Champagne ensemble from Straussís Die Fledermaus with verve, lightness of utterance, and idiomatic ťlan. (Gratschmaier toasted the audience.) Schulz led his excellent orchestra (and the clapping audience) in a high kicking version of Straussís Radetsky March. Finally the entire company (led by Mankhofís soaring soprano) joined in Old Lang Syne. A wonderful evening of great Viennese music and the perfect way to say Happy New Year!