Die Reise um die Erde in 80 Tagen (Naxos)

Die Reise
um die Erde
in 80 Tagen

(1874 incidental music)

Franz von Suppé

reviewed by
Christopher Webber

Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra, c. Dario Salvi
[recorded House of Culture, Ostrava, Czech Republic, 3-7 May 2021]

Naxos 8.574396 [1-CD, 51:04]

Though Jules Verne’s early novels had created a stir at home and abroad, it was the 1874 stage adaptation of Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours which franked his global fame. The spectacular Paris premiere led to blockbuster stagings in many of the world’s capitals, not least Madrid, where in August the following year Luis Mariano de Larra penned La vuelta al mundo, with lively music by Barbieri and Rogel: competitive zarzueleros will note with pride that Larra’s Spanish hero improved on Verne’s Phileas Fogg, by scampering around the world in seventy days rather than eighty. Vienna had joined the party even quicker with the ‘Spektakelstück’ Die Reise um die Erde in 80 Tagen, which opened at the Carltheater in March 1875, featuring a substantial musical score by Franz von Suppé.

Though to some extent we’re talking chalk and cheese, it is instructive to compare the founder of Viennese operetta’s take on Vernian travelogue with Manuel Fernández Caballero’s a couple of years later in Los sobrinos del capitán Grant, which adapts another of the Frenchman’s breathless, pan-global romps. Verne had launched his career as a playwright and comic opera librettist; but whereas Caballero captures brilliantly the novelist’s tongue-in-cheek, opéra comique ambience, Suppé plumps for generic melodrama, at the expense of the dazzling contrasts inherent in Le Tour’s catalogue of clashing cultures. Lugubrious, minor-key grandeur prevails, whether we’re in Brahmin India, a serpent grotto in Borneo, or enduring the perils of the San Francisco Gold Rush.

Franz von Suppe, 1881Nearly all the music is slow, brassy and baleful, with few excursions into the lighter material at which the Viennese master excelled in operettas such as Die schöne Galathée or Fatinitza. But if it’s hard to escape the feeling that Suppé missed an open goal, he still offers us a handful of miniatures to treasure, notably a laid-back barcarolle for a (doomed) Atlantic sea crossing, and a rhythmically teasing dance for the American anti-hero which is over almost before its begun. The pastel wispiness of ‘On the Suez Canal’ likewise lingers in the mind.

Heard in concert form, Suppé’s score seems bitty and repetitive; but any frustration doesn’t extend to conductor Dario Salvi’s first-class presentation of the material, or his ability to generate consistently excellent playing from his Czech forces. Together, they play this music for everything it’s worth, and the Naxos recording is first rate. Given a good synopsis, and full (if sometimes oddly slapdash) musical notes from operetta expert Robert Ignatius Letellier, who certainly knows his stuff, this disc is certainly worth hearing, not least as a contemporary Teutonic take on Verne’s world – evidently very different from the sunnier, more mercurial approach of France and Spain.

© Christopher Webber and, 2022

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