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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.

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Der Schauspieldirektor
(The Impresario) Comedy with Music in one act (1786) [22:30] #
Arias: Misera, dove son! ... Ah! Non son’io che parlo K 369; Uno moto di gioia K 579; Schon lacht der holde Frühling K 580 +
Vado, ma dove? Oh Dei! K 583; Bella mia fiamma, addio! K 528; Nehmt meinen Dank, ihr holden Gönner! K 383 *
Le nozze di Figaro: Overture @
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano) – Mademoiselle Silberklang; Edita Gruberova (soprano) – Madame Herz; Uwe Heilmann (tenor) – Herr Vogelsang; Manfred Jungwirth (bass) – Buff
Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir John Pritchard #
Edita Gruberova (soprano) Wiener Kammerorchester/György Fischer; Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Ha! Wie will ich triumphieren Manfred Jungwirth (bass), Wiener Haydn-Orchester/István Kertész +
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano), Wiener Kammerorchester/György Fischer*
Wiener Philharmoniker/Sir John Pritchard @
rec. Grosser Saal, Konzerthaus, Vienna 20–22 March 1989 (Schauspieldirektor + Figaro), June, September 1980 (Gruberova), September – October 1971 (Jungwirth) and December 1980 (Te Kanawa)
DECCA Universal's Classic Opera 475 7049 [65:07]

The German Singspiel - comedy with music, performed in German with spoken dialogue – had developed to a popular genre towards the end of the 18th century, even challenging the Italian opera buffa, where the musical numbers were linked by sung recitatives. In an attempt to prove the viability of the Singspiel the Austrian Emperor Joseph II commissioned two works – one from each genre – to be performed on the same occasion in the Orangery at Schönbrunn on 7 February 1786. They were supposed to deal with the same subject: the creation of an opera and the establishment of an opera company.

The competitors were Mozart, who composed the Singspiel Der Schauspieldirektor (The Impresario) and his Italian rival – and once supposed to be his murderer – Salieri with the buffa Prima la musica e poi le parole (First the music and then the words) – a theme that Richard Strauss also dealt with in Capriccio. To the disappointment of the Emperor, Salieri was the winner, more perhaps thanks to a superior libretto than the quality of the music. In terms of quantity Salieri also won hands down: he provided an overture and thirteen musical numbers plus recitatives while Mozart’s score comprises an overture, two soprano arias, a trio and a vaudeville. Der Schauspieldirektor has always belonged to Mozart’s least performed works for the stage – and no wonder. Just a few months later his supreme comedy Le nozze di Figaro was premiered at the Burgtheater and four years earlier he had already written Die Entführing aus dem Serail which must be counted as one of the few masterpieces in this genre. Still, anything that Mozart wrote is of some interest and the two arias are good, quite taxing, actually. Perhaps they would have been better-known today had they been included in one of his great operas. Best of all is the overture, in effect a miniature symphonic poem, illustrating, in Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s words “the impresario stamping his foot, the candidates’ apprehension, their bathos, their artificially bolstered self-confidence, the tough, jealous competition and finally the threat of bankruptcy and disaster – all this within around four minutes – the length also of the Figaro overture, to which it may be inferior, but not much.

The Vienna Philharmonic play the overture as to the manner born, which they are and Sir John, who was an instinctive Mozartean sees to it that it always on the move. It may be a little softer-edged than Harnoncourt’s, the closest competitor on a Teldec recording from 1987, but this is Mozart playing on the highest level. Where Teldec picked excellent singers of mainly less than world fame, Decca engaged a starry cast with Gruberova as Madame Herz singing with her customary care for details and nuances, even though she doesn’t seem completely at ease with the part. The coloratura is agile but the overall impression is a bit monochrome. Kiri Te Kanawa, who sings Mademoiselle Silberklang, is at her most mellifluous – more satin than silver actually – with ravishing tone and exquisite pianissimos, while her florid singing is less than elegant. As Herr Vogelsang we hear the splendid Mozartean tenor Uwe Heilmann, who appears in the trio and the vaudeville. He sings with honeyed tone while the ladies twitter delightfully. They are joined by Buff in the finale, sung by Manfred Jungwirth, best known to collectors as a fruity Baron Ochs in Solti’s famous Der Rosenkavalier from 1969. Here, in 1989, he was already 70, according to the reference books, and he has lost much of the bloom but can still turn a phrase with a great deal of charm. He is heard to much better advantage in his Entführung aria in the “appendix” – much longer than the opera – where in a 1971 recording he is a lively interpreter and his low D sits comfortably. This aria was originally issued as part of a Mozart Festival, which was reissued in its entirety on Decca Eloquence a few months ago (see review). Gruberova’s and Kiri Te Kanawa’s arias are from a set of concert arias recorded 25 years ago, and they are both excellent. One of the gems is the little Uno moto di gioia, written as a substitute aria for Susanna at a revival of Le nozze di Figaro in 1789. About it Mozart wrote to his wife: “The little aria which I composed for Madame Ferraresi ought, I think, to be a success, provided she is able to sing it in an artless manner – which, however, I very much doubt. ”If he had written it with Edita Gruberova in mind he would have had no such doubts. She treats it as the unpretentious but lovely song it is. Art concealing art, maybe. Irresistible it is. Schon lacht der holde Frühling was supposedly written as an insertion in Paisiello’s Barbiere di Siviglia, but the production was never realised and Mozart never completed the orchestration, which Professor Franz Berger completed for this recording. It is quite virtuosic, composed for Josefa Hogfer, who later created The Queen of the Night. Gruberova has of course been on of the great Queens herself and she negotiates the coloratura with all her considerable skill.

Kiri Te Kanawa is in her creamiest voice in her arias, Vado, ma dove? being one of the loveliest of Mozart’s many concert arias. The nine-minute-long Bella mia fiamma, addio! ... Resta, oh cara is a tragic scena, written for Josefa Dusek, who also was the dedicatee of Beethoven’s dramatic Ah! Perfido, which was more or less modelled after this aria. Bella fiamma is more restrained, more resigned, with less of the furioso of Beethoven’s piece, but towaeds the end the emotions run high and here Kiri shows a great deal of temperament. In sharp contrast to this is Hehmt meinen Dank, a light lyrical piece with pizzicato accompaniments and traces of Pedrillo’s romance from Die Entführung.

The overture to Le nozze di Figaro, which is the final music on the disc, was Pritchard’s last recording and he really enjoyed doing it with the VPO. It’s a genial but lively reading, where the comedy is never far away. It was quite interesting and instructive to compare it to Karajan’s recording with the same orchestra (see review) – the latter indulging in romantic accents and crescendos, far removed from the classicist approach of Sir John.

Readers already well supplied with concert arias might be tempted by Harnoncourt’s more logical coupling, Salieri’s Prima la musica, with witch the Mozart work originally was coupled at Schönbrunn, in what I believe is the only existing recording. It is not complete, the recitatives are gone and six of the musical numbers are also missing but it gives some idea of what the work was like. As for Der Schauspieldirektor both recordings have their merits. I could live with both – and in fact I do. The problem seems to be that at present the Harnoncourt recording is not available – at least there was no entry at all for Salieri under “Opera” on Amazon. Warner should put it on the market again without delay. But anyone who wants to try Der Schauspieldirektor can safely buy this Decca version and will have a substantial helping of lovely arias excellently performed as well.

Göran Forsling


 

 



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