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Johann Strauss: Simplicius
Michael Volle, Martin Zysset, Oliver Widmer etc
Zurich Opera Chorus & Orchestra/Welser-Most
Arthaus 100 364
Filmed in 2000.
DVD Release Date: 31 March, 2003
Run Time: 132 minutes

Libretto by Victor Leon after 'Der abentheurliche Simplicissimus Teutsch' (1668) by Johann Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelhausen

Childrens' choir, Chorus and Orchestra of Zurich Opera House conducted by Franz Welser-Möst
Director: David Pountney
Sets: Johann Engels

MICHAEL VOLLE The hermit, Wendelin von Grubben
MARTIN ZYSSET Simplicius, his youngest son
ROLF HAUNSTEIN General von Vliessen
ELIZABETH MAGNUSON Hildegarde, his daughter
PIOTR BECZALA Arnim von Grubben, brother of Simpicius
OLIVER WIDMER Melchior, an astrologer
MARTINAJANKOVA Tilly, her daughter

LILIANA NIKITEANU Ebba, a Swedish spy
HEIKKI YRTTIAHO A foreign cuirassier
JORG HEPPE An officer
MEINOLF KAKUHL First soldier

Thought to have been lost, and recently redisovered and reconstructed, here is a delightful farrago of nonsense, live from a spectacular stage production by David Pountney, with impressive special effects, all brought expertly to wide-screen 16:9 DVD by Thomas Grimm.

A word of warning; at the present time, not everyone will be minded to join in its spirit of gleeful celebration of German nationalism towards the end of the Thirty Years War. War is the greatest fun in life, especially hanging people from trees and revelling underneath.

But it is only an Operetta and a good one, with a story of numbing complexity about contested identities and inheritance, which requires three pages of the insert book to elucidate; in the end it really doesn't matter.

It all starts with an overture of mock seriousness. One thinks back to The Tempest - Simplicius, a Wagnerian 'pure fool', related to Siegrfried & Parsifal, at the centre of the proceedings, is as ignorant of life and the opposite sex as Miranda - and Weber's woodlands (with a fake astrologer who brings to mind Donizetti's Dr Dulcamara) and it looks forward to Gilbert & Sullivan. Menace soon evaporates, and everything is drowned in lashings of Boozy Lotte's schnapps. The costumes are magnificent and it is all a feast for the eyes.

Not given to lasting out the endless sequence from Vienna of Johann Strauss the Younger's waltzes every New Year morning, I find them far more apt in this context, and the singing is excellent, some of it ravishing.

A very happy entertainment, and Franz Welser-Most (under appreciated with the LPO) is in his element in Zurich. Perhaps one for the Christmas list when we may all, hopefully, be at peace again?


© Peter Grahame Woolf