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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Carl ORFF (1895 - 1982)
Carmina Burana (1937)
Lucia Popp (soprano)
John van Kesteren (tenor)
Hermann Prey (baritone)
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Tolz Childrenís Choir
Munich Radio Orchestra conducted by Kurt Eichhorn
Film Directed by Jean Pierre Ponnelle
Also includes picture documentation and an interview with the composer (audio only, but illustrated by photographs).
Regional Code 0 Picture Format 4:3
Sound formats AC3 5.1 PCM Stereo 24 bit / 96 kHz
Production 1975 from a 1973 Analogue Stereo Recording issued by RCA.
Subtitles in Latin (!), English, German, French and Italian
BMG DVD 74321 85285 9 [playing time 1.18]


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. Iíve 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.


Dave Billinge

 


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