Several countries have their light operas: the British their Gilbert and Sullivan, the Spanish their zarzuelas, the French their operettes. All of these display quite tight-knit styles, but the operetta tradition of Austria, and specifically Vienna, is more diffuse, reflecting the differing styles of folk music found in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. The world of operetta is a never-never-land of handsome hussar officers, princes and princesses, counts and countesses and romantic gypsies beloved of bourgeois Viennese who would probably hate to meet a real gipsy. The waltz, that most insidious of dances, is never far away. It is a kind of music that demands a special way of singing – yielding, lilting phrasing, often rather laidback rhythms, unless the singer is suddenly breaking into the fast section of a Hungarian czárdás. Artists from other countries can make a good stab at it, but the real thing is unmistakable when we encounter it. Hilde Gueden was the real thing.
Her first operetta studio session – held at Kingsway Hall in London in April 1949, with a pick-up ensemble conducted by Hans May. As well as two Lehár favourites, among these six tracks (CD1 5–10) are rarities by Nico Dostal and Franz Grothe. Two Giuditta excerpts come from the 1957 complete set in which Gueden starred with her longtime colleague Waldemar Kmentt; and their duet from Der Graf von Luxemburg is from the 1965 disc of excerpts. The celebrated Vilja-Lied, from the 1958 recording of The Merry Widow has seldom, if ever, been better done.
Included (on CD2) is her recording with Robert Stolz of twelve ‘operetta evergreens’ – the delightful cover of the original LP reproduced together with another five in the booklet. Josef Krips – who enjoyed conducting music of the Strauss family – accompanies her in two of the composers waltzes and a real rarity is her very last recording. Made with Horst Stein and the Suisse Romande it yielded just two arias: Marietta’s Lied from Korngold’s 1920 opera Die Tote Stadt and ‘Depuis le jour’ from Charpentier’s Louise.
Several of the recordings on the set are released internationally on Decca CD for the first time and this collection, recorded over a twenty-year period (1949–1969) offers a great glimpse of one of Vienna’s greatest opera stars in lighter (but not necessarily less demanding) fare.
“my first choice is “Operetta Evergreens” in which Hilde Gueden is the lovely soloist in selections from Johann Strauss, Lehár, Kálmán, Zeller and others” Gramophone (CD2: 1–12)