Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:


Fischer-Dieskau, Bayerisches Chor & Staatsorchester/Albrecht
Deutsche Grammophon 463 480-2 2CD
 Amazon UK  Amazon USA

In 1968 the possibility of Shakespeare's great tragedy becoming an opera was suggested by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau to Aribert Reimann, his regular Lieder pianist in the '60s and '70s. Reimann provides a diary of its 10-year genesis, commission by Munich Opera and progress to production by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, in the 100-page illustrated booklet included with this re-issue on double CD. Only Wozzeck, in Fischer-Dieskau's opinion, portrays the loneliness of man, blind to his fellow man, equally convincingly.

The idiom is dodecaphonic and prevailingly dissonant and harsh, more so than any other opera which comes to mind; or harshly beautiful, depending upon your ears. Reimann builds massive climaxes, using microtones and clusters, and long passages for the singers are not precisely notated. According to Fischer-Dieskau, who found it necessary in his introduction to refute 'a number of biased critics', these are 'of a flawlessness rarely achieved in the history of recitative'. Lear is a wonderful gift for Fischer-Dieskau's powers of dramatic declamation and its release on CD an important contribution to his 75th birthday celebrations. In Claus Henneberg's libretto, event follows event without pause for poetic reflection. The key episodes of Shakespeare's King Lear are traversed at speed, and strongly particularised, with memorable musical motifs and specific instrumental accompaniments for each of the main characters, but it is all so well melded that it does not sound in the least dated or formulaic.

The recording made live at the National Theatre, Munich in October 1978 is first class and does not show its age, nor any lack of immediacy, vividness or finesse. It is invidious to omit mention of any of the singers in what must have been a remarkable team achievement and an unique occasion in the annals of Munich Opera.[* LINK please Len to S&H May 2000 - Munich opera reviews], but Fischer-Dieskau is admirably supported by Helga Dernesch, masterful and determined as Goneril, and by Colette Lorand as Regan, her sister and ultimate rival for power, hysterical and overcome by manic, uncontrollable laughter at the blinding of Gloucester - a scary moment. Truth and goodness are entrusted to Fischer-Dieskau's wife Julia Varady as Cordelia, she alone allowed a poignant aria leading to a duet with her belatedly enlightened father, all the more moving for our having been kept waiting so long whilst evil and cruelty occupied centre stage with steadily mounting horror.

Lear was produced in London with notable success by ENO, but opened to mixed reviews. Few contemporary operas achieve an enduring place in the repertoire. You will have frequent opportunities to enjoy Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau recordings of Lieder, and in standard operas, for the rest of your lifetime, but Lear's longevity in the catalogue will be at the mercy of Universal's accountants! So snap it up while you have the chance.


Peter Grahame Woolf



Peter Grahame Woolf

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index