Take note of the date of sound recording, 1973. There
is nothing new about this DVD except its format. The picture is standard
4:3 and the sound, though refurbished, is derived from analogue stereo
masters. It was reviewed only in stereo. The menus allow sensible access
to the music and interview but are "backed", if that is the
word, by a repeating extract of the opening chorus "Oh Fortuna".
I do not approve! Silence is required until the listener asks for music.
I muted the system until I was good and ready to start.
This is not a staging of a performance but a filmed
recreation. It is probably the sort of thing Orff himself wanted for
stagings of this exhilarating piece (he presumably saw this one) but
the imagination and setting shown here would be impossible on any normal
operatic stage. I found the entire exercise gripping for three key reasons,
the 1973 musical performance is excellent in every respect, the film
is most entertaining to watch and the availability of English subtitles
allowed one, at last, to grasp what exactly they are all singing just
as they sing it. The text of Carmina Burana has been the subject of
discussion for years. My earliest recordings coyly refused to print
a libretto at all, then they started offering it only in Latin. Only
in recent years have we delicate souls been allowed the unexpurgated
text. No denizen of the 21st Century need worry, the text
is indeed rich at times and does contain some amusing vulgarity, but
it is nothing to the average prime time TV drama.
It is not until track 4 that we see anyone actually
singing. It is Hermann Prey (baritone) lip-syncing his own recording
dressed in full peasant costume and with wonderfully 1970s film makeup,
exaggerated by the brightly lit settings and clearly artificial scenery.
There is some spectacular use of a highly phallic piece of topiary during
the lengthy "Spring" section which, be warned, is characteristic
of much of the production. The famous Song of the Roasted Goose (sung
by a man in goose costume rotating on a spit) is usually merely funny,
but the images of slavering peasants and courtiers all eating the poor
thing in mid aria is actually quite sinister. I felt as though I were
spectating at a cannibal feast. I’ve mentioned the lip-syncing already.
Mostly it is well done, and in fact rarely needed, but Lucia Popp is
less well served in her contribution and it does draw attention to the
age of the film.
The interview with Carl Orff is of some interest. Throughout
it is accompanied by stills as if one were looking through the Orff
family album, scarcely imaginative for a modern DVD but it has undoubted
documentary interest and goes some way towards making up for the utterly
useless booklet. Orff talks of his early life up to Carmina Burana and
then about the piece itself. He has nothing to say you could not find
out from any decent LP sleeve and I found myself getting out audio recordings
for the sake of the background material they offered.
Jean Pierre Ponnelle has been responsible for several
magnificent opera productions, I will never forget Tristan and Isolde
at Bayreuth during the 80s, and this film shows all his flair for dramatic
images in both characterisation of individuals and in the settings.
It all takes place in front of a great wheel, the wheel of fate, and
is performed as a morality tale placed in a Chaucerian world full of
strange characters, variously masked and sometimes very unmasked. It
follows the music from the epic to the intimate and from the comic to
the grotesque. If you like the work itself and the prospect of non-2002
technology is not a concern, then buy it with confidence. For the first
time in over 30 years of listening to Orff I found myself gripped by
the significance of the words as well as the music. All very refreshing.