Schmidt-Garre has created a very interesting if not kitschy
series of half-hour-ish documentaries on the lives and careers
of a dozen great tenors from the 78 rpm era - six more make
up volume two. Each episode begins with a period-looking
scene from an early broadcast studio, and there follows
film clips, interviews with critics and experts, and usually
one or two scenes featuring geriatric colleagues or acquaintances
of each of the singers. All filmed in black and white, the
formula gets rather old rather fast when watching each episode
in succession, the sameness of format much better suited
for a weekly television broadcast than a three hour viewing
marathon via the DVD player.
aside, this series is invaluable for its archival records
of these memorable artists. Excellent commentary and analysis
is provided by Jürgen Kesting, and the reminiscences of
the singer’s colleagues and acquaintances are entertaining.
Absolutely maddening however are the repeated appearances
of “singer and writer” Stefan Zucker, whose grating voice,
slovenly look and pretentious, useless babbling had me reaching
for my gin bottle. By the time I got through the sixth episode,
his very appearance had me entering the suicide hotline
on my speed dial.
is most remarkable is the high quality of the films and
their soundtracks. The fact that so much footage of these
great singers even exists in such excellent condition is
astounding. That these documents have now been preserved
digitally is a contribution to history that will be treasured
for years to come.
need be said about the individual singers and the performances.
They have long ago proven themselves, and music lovers have
firmly established camps in favor of one singer or another.
What is worth saying, however, is that these great artists
have all been captured here in the prime of their careers
and these recordings have been lovingly restored to as near
optimum sound as possible. Kesting’s play-by-play analysis
of at least one full aria by each singer is technically
right on the money, and provides a raft of new appreciation
for each artist.
is a disc that offers a treasure trove for opera lovers.
And, now that enough time has past to allow for the bel
canto and verismo singing styles to be considered from the
point of view of historically informed performance practice,
these living documents of the musicians that invented the
styles will serve as irrefutable evidence as to how the
composers themselves would have expected their music to
be rendered. After all, many of the singers on display here
knew the likes of Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo
personally or at least had studied with pupils of the composers.
for the annoying Mr. Zucker, these are priceless archives,
highly recommended to all lovers of great singing.