Closing out the year in Miami, as they have for the past eleven years, The Strauss Symphony of America (TSSA) regaled a south Florida crowd looking both backward and forward to the joys music, song and dance can bring.
On Saturday, Dec. 30 at the Knight Concert Hall, Vienna’s own Matthias Fletzberger, maestro of TSSA, conducted a spirited program co-produced by the Adrienne Arsht Center and Attila Glatz Concert Productions – an ebullient mesh of music, operetta, ballet and ballroom dancing.
Having written over 500 waltzes, polkas and quadrilles (similar to American square dancing), the ne plus ultra of 19th century dance music certainly belongs to Strauss II alone.
And who could argue with the “best of” waltzes of Johann Strauss Jr. being the perfect vehicle to transport anyone into the new year?
One must keep in mind that Strauss is not jazz, and presenting Strauss nowadays, especially for a traditional New Year's concert, requires a bit of a formula and the kind of precision that eschews spontaneity. That said, the Salute to Vienna evening was thoroughly enjoyable and left no doubt that these Viennese musicians, singers and dancers were highly accomplished.
The orchestra distinguished itself with a pair of Strauss II overtures from “Die Fledermaus,” with its iconic waltz centerpiece, and the “Gypsy Baron,” percussion, brass, strings and winds combining solidly with the primary waltz. Outstanding tone was heard from the principal oboe, English horn and flute of John Dee, Jeff Apana and Joseph Monticello respectively.
Johann with brother Josef composed the familiar “Pizzicato Polka,” TSSA’s string section, like a single great guitar, nimbly plucking the inimitable piece. The audience clapped on cue during the “Jockey Polka,” Josef’s frisky ode to horse racing.
Strauss’s “Kaiser-Walzer” (“Emperor Waltz”), with its upbeat character and familiar crescendos, was a perfect fit for the orchestra and the Austrian dancers from Europaballett St. Pölten & International Champion Ballroom Dancers. The waltz, both grand and elegant, was punctuated with 4 women in flowing red gowns along with two male escorts in tuxedo-like black, white and patterned red vests, bringing inspired jumps, twirls and an abundance of en pointe, Arabesque and Pirouette to the stage.
The costumes were colorful throughout, the women in black and silvery ball gowns, the men in tails, as they lifted and twirled ballroom style to Strauss’s “Frühlingsstimmen” Waltzes, the women switching to short light blue dresses with purple aprons, the men in lederhosen, for brother Eduard Strauss’s ballet “Unter der Enns Polka schnell.”
Austro-Hungarian composer, Franz Lehár, best known for his operetta “The Merry Widow,” crafted the stand alone “Ballsirenen (Merry Widow) Waltz,” TSSA dynamically rendering it with the male dancers jumping and turning twice aloft while the ladies spun en pointe.
Iva Schell, soprano, and Michael Heim, tenor, both possess voices worthy of the operatic stage.
Singing in Viennese German (Bavarian, Weanerisch), an effervescent Schell brought to life Carl Zeller’s gallop “Ich bin die Christel von der Post” and Strauss II’s “Draußen in Sievering,” handling her highs and lows with flawless ease. Michael Heim, in a creamy smooth tenor, effortlessly rendered Strauss II’s “Sei mir gegrüßt,” from “A Night in Venice” and pulled the romance out of Lehár’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz,” from “Land of Smiles,” playing a Chinese prince confessing his love for a Viennese woman.
Schell and Heim then teamed up on Strauss II’s “Das eine kann ich nicht verzeih’n,” from “Wiener Blut,” capturing the Viennese spirit with the uplifting familiar strain – and they waltzed too! The bittersweet duet (“Wer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenkt?”) from Lehár’s “Land of Smiles” was a crowd-pleaser, Schell and Heim blending beautifully, their voices ringing true on their money note, the mournful woman returning to Vienna as her Chinese prince took on his customary four wives.
Encores are best unprompted. Somebody forgot to tell that to maestro Fletzberger who promised encores if the audience applauded well…Oh well, one can’t complain when the encores included perhaps the most celebrated composition from “The Waltz King," “The Blue Danube.”
The robust orchestra launched into the “Danube,” filling the Knight Hall with the glorious sound as sparkling dancers combined ballet and ballroom combinations to the delight of the audience.
Schell and Heim teamed up one more time with Rudolf Sieczyński’s nostalgic “Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume,” the orchestra waxed sentimental with Robert Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne” and, as the house lights came up, the clap-along on Johann Strauss I’s “Radetzky March” closed the lively fete.