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In many ways, Franz von Suppé (1819-1895) was Vienna’s
answer to Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880). As of the 1850’s,
Suppé’s operettas were quite the rage. Although he’d written
earlier musical works, his 1860 operetta, “Das Pensionat,”
became a template for what we can expect, when hearing
Viennese operetta today. During the next two decades,
other Suppé works and those by Johann Strauss II, such as
“Die Fledermaus” and “Der Zigeunerbaron” represented the
flowering of the “golden age” of Viennese operetta.

The first performance of “Boccaccio” was given in 1879,
and it was considered by most to be Suppé’s crowning
achievement in the form. This recording was my first
exposure to one of his stage works, in its entirety. As
many are aware, he was primarily known as a
composer of concert overtures, such as the one for
“Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant)” and the overture
to “Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry)”. It’s often forgotten
that these pieces, like those popular opera overtures by
Gioachino Rossini, are parts of larger works!

At a running time of one hour and 45 minutes, the 1975
recording I heard of “Boccaccio” was thoroughly delightful,
filled with catchy tunes and ensembles reminiscent of those
found in a Strauss operetta. The frivolous plot concerns
perceived infidelities, and takes place in the 14th Century.
It includes a large cast; however the central figures are the
two lovers, Boccaccio and Fiametta. The real-life
poet/scholar, Boccaccio, lived from 1313 to 1375, and his
amorous adventures form a diluted basis for the libretto
of this operetta.

This was a very good recording release from EMI, utilizing
singers who were steeped in the idiom. I particularly
enjoyed baritone Hermann Prey’s performance in the
title role. As Fiametta, Anneliese Rothenberger sang well;
however, I recall hearing her sound more beautiful in earlier
recordings. The entire cast was strong, but I felt that in
general, the men sounded a bit better. Longtime Vienna
Philharmonic concertmaster, Willi Boskovsky, led a
perfectly paced performance by the Bayerischen
Symphonie-Orchester, and the Chor und Orchester der
Bayerischen Staatsoper München also sounded splendid.

It’s too bad that the trilingual booklet didn’t include an
actual libretto, particularly since spoken German dialogue
was used in this recording. Instead, there was a detailed
synopsis with CD track numbers, which meant that I had
to follow along and guess which performers were singing
the lines. Obviously, this was more challenging during the
ensemble passages. Aside from this caveat, I felt it was a
fine, idiomatic recording which I can heartily recommend.

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