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Ralf Benatzky: Im weissen Rössl
Harald Serafin (Kaiser Franz Joseph II), Rainhard Fendrich (Leopold Brandmeyer), Zabine Kapfinger (Josepha Vogelhuber), Marco Jentzsch (Dr. Otto Siedler), Klaus-Dieter Lerche (Wilhelm Giesecke), Anja-Katharina Wigger (Ottilie), Klaus Eberhartinger (Sigismund Sülzheimer), Erik Göller (Professor Dr. Hinzelmann), Ina Nadine Wagler (Klärchen), Rafael Schuchter (Piccolo), Markus Puchberger (Guide), Heribert Pudik (Town Crier), Peter Leutgöb (Ketterl), Mörbisch Festival Choir, Ballet and Extras, Bernard Schneider (Chorus Master), Mörbisch Festival Orchestra, Musicians of the Burgenland Brass Band Association, Günter Fruhmann (Conductor), Kurt Pongratz (Video Director), Rudolf Bibl (Musical Director), Karl Absenger (Stage Director), Friedrich Rom (Lighting Designer), Rolf Langenfass (Costume and Flower Designer), Giorgio Madia (Choreography), Wolfgang Fritz (Acoustics Designer)
Recording: Bauernkapelle St. Georgen, Austria (2008) – 139’
Videoland Klassik #VLMD 015N (Distributed by Naxos of America) – Booklet in German, English, French, Italian and Spanish – Subtitles in English and German

Ralph Benatzky followed similar musical paths of Franz Lehár, Leo Fall and Emmerich Kálmán, to name a few. Much of the music composed by all these gentlemen were positioned inside pre and post World War I, the fallout of The Depression and beginning rumblings of Hitler’s insidious rise to power. Operettas were in vogue at the time, but advent of film musicals was also a developing spectacle. Benatzky balanced his creativities on both side of the fence, contributing over 5,000 songs that were divvied up for the screen but also for his own stage productions. Known for extravagant revues and elaborate numbers, perhaps Ralph Benatzky’s best known work is that of In the White Horse Inn.

Under Mörbisch’s Seefestspiele Artistic Director, Harald Serafin, Karl Absenger’s staging alongside Rudolf Bibl’s direction is “over the top.” Physically speaking, the set’s design physically positions the Inn itself in the exact location as is found in true-to-life St. Wolfgang, Austria, perched on the Wolfgangsee. The costume and flower accoutrements (compliments by Rolf Langenfass) add characteristic charm while contemporary edging supplements with a squared-off proscenium arch bedazzled with flashing lights spearheaded by Friedrich Rom which synchronize to Benatzky’s bouncy and effervescent rhythms.

Personally interpreted musically, In the White Horse Inn can be described as ”the Le Corsaire of the operetta world” in which several other composers contributed music for the original work. The story centers around Head Waiter Leopold Brandmeyer who has a crush on the pertinacious innkeeper Josepha Vogelhuber. Rainhard Fendrich, a mann with dashing good looks and softened tenor voice, expresses his role with quasi-suave Maurice Chevalier sophistication, politely hinting at supplications sexuelles here and there. Zabine Kapfinger is a Tyrolean beauty who acts the role superbly and sings charmingly to the audience; she demonstrates vocal pliability with her lyrical yodeling in Act II.

Three or four other subplots work its way into the score, and all remaining cast members are a perfect fit: Marco Jentzsch is a bit aloof as Dr. Otto Siedler, but he soon warms a bit when he first sets eyes on Ottilie, performed by Anja-Katharina Wigger. Together, they display their dexterity in a group dance number with sans taps. The lisping role of Klärchen is assigned to Ina Nadine Wagler as she wiggles her way into the arms of the cheesy and hammy Sigismund Sülzheimer, acted out by Klaus Eberhartinger who is clad in a Lagenfass outrageous red plaid suit that makes late professional golfer Payne Stewart look tame. Assistant to Leopold, Rafael Schuchter’s Piccolo is annoyingly overstated.

Zaniness abounds, replete with dancing cows, cloggers, sightseers, and loads of extras along with ballet dancers who are dressed as chambermaids, lederhosen hay workers, milk maids and daringly debonair cabaret couples (think Cabaret). Rolf Langenfass has done a fabulous job in creating the ultimate display of visual pop. Movement never ceases to amaze, and to execute stage blocking is a particularly challenging one. Giorgio Madia keeps things going, never allowing a lazy eye to stray: his affections towards line dancing and contagions add energy and vivacity, certifiably emblazoning Benatzky’s musical values with immeasurable proportion.

Lightness and frivolity predominate In the White Horse Inn, but there is truly a more pensive and sentimental side to this musical. This “reflective” notion appears when Kaiser Franz Joseph II arrives by steamer to stay at the Inn. While there, Innkeeper Vogelhuber asks the Kaiser to sign her guest book at which time Harald Serafin sits down to write some sage words. The scene actually breaks the momentum for a few minutes, allowing the audience to temporarily pause about other truly important life issues at hand. Benatzky’s soft-sided background music fittingly envelopes the Kaiser’s words. In the White Horse Inn is ensconced in lessons of demurred grace, sincerity and humbleness.

Kurt Pongratz does an excellent job in capturing this production on DVD, utilizing many fine pan shots, yet never burdening with busyness. Günter Fruhmann’s conducting is superb and the choral numbers, headed by Bernhard Schneider, invoke grand intensity.

In the White Horse Inn will leave you smiling and enlightened.

Christie Grimstad




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