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, Viennaâ€™s own Matthias Fletzberger, maestro of TSSA, conducted a spirited program co-produced by the Adrienne Arsht Center and Attila Glatz Concert Productions â€“ 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 â€śbest ofâ€ť 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 â€śDie Fledermaus,â€ť with its iconic waltz centerpiece, and the â€śGypsy Baron,â€ť 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 â€śPizzicato Polka,â€ť TSSAâ€™s string section, like a single great guitar, nimbly plucking the inimitable piece. The audience clapped on cue during the â€śJockey Polka,â€ť Josefâ€™s frisky ode to horse racing.
Straussâ€™s â€śKaiser-Walzerâ€ť (â€śEmperor Waltzâ€ť), with its upbeat character and familiar crescendos, was a perfect fit for the orchestra and the Austrian dancers from Europaballett St. PĂ¶lten & 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 Straussâ€™s â€śFrĂĽhlingsstimmenâ€ť Waltzes, the women switching to short light blue dresses with purple aprons, the men in lederhosen, for brother Eduard Straussâ€™s ballet â€śUnter der Enns Polka schnell.â€ť
Austro-Hungarian composer, Franz LehĂˇr, best known for his operetta â€śThe Merry Widow,â€ť crafted the stand alone â€śBallsirenen (Merry Widow) Waltz,â€ť 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 Zellerâ€™s gallop â€śIch bin die Christel von der Postâ€ť and Strauss IIâ€™s â€śDrauĂźen in Sievering,â€ť handling her highs and lows with flawless ease. Michael Heim, in a creamy smooth tenor, effortlessly rendered Strauss IIâ€™s â€śSei mir gegrĂĽĂźt,â€ť from â€śA Night in Veniceâ€ť and pulled the romance out of LehĂˇrâ€™s â€śDein ist mein ganzes Herz,â€ť from â€śLand of Smiles,â€ť playing a Chinese prince confessing his love for a Viennese woman.
Schell and Heim then teamed up on Strauss IIâ€™s â€śDas eine kann ich nicht verzeihâ€™n,â€ť from â€śWiener Blut,â€ť capturing the Viennese spirit with the uplifting familiar strain â€“ and they waltzed too! The bittersweet duet (â€śWer hat die Liebe uns ins Herz gesenkt?â€ť) from LehĂˇrâ€™s â€śLand of Smilesâ€ť 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 wellâ€¦Oh well, one canâ€™t complain when the encores included perhaps the most celebrated composition from â€śThe Waltz King," â€śThe Blue Danube.â€ť
The robust orchestra launched into the â€śDanube,â€ť 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 SieczyĹ„skiâ€™s nostalgic â€śWien, du Stadt meiner TrĂ¤ume,â€ť the orchestra waxed sentimental with Robert Burnsâ€™s â€śAuld Lang Syneâ€ť and, as the house lights came up, the clap-along on Johann Strauss Iâ€™s â€śRadetzky Marchâ€ť closed the lively fete.