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Albert LORTZING (1801-1851)
Zar und Zimmermann romantic opera in three acts (1837)
Raymond Wolansky (ten) - Peter the Great; Peter Haage (ten) - Peter Ivanov; Hans Sotin (bass/bar) - Van Bett; Lucia Popp (sop) - Marie; Herbert Fliether (bass/bar) - Admiral Lefort; Noël Mangin (bass) - Lord Syndham; Horst Wilhelm (ten) - Marquis de Châteauneuf; Ursula Boese - Widow Browe; Franz Grundheber - Officer
Ballet and Chorus of the Hamburg State Opera
Philharmonic State Orchestra Hamburg/Charles Mackerras
rec. Hamburg, Germany, 1969. ADD
Gyula Trebitsch, director
Arranged for TV by Joachim Hess
Picture format: NTSC 4:3 (Colour)
Sound format: Dolby Digital Mono
Region code: 0
Menu Languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Subtitle Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
ARTHAUS AHM 101269 [131:00]



We hear precious little of Lortzing’s stage works in repertoire outside Germany, yet this operetta is the one most regularly performed within the country. Of Lortzing’s large output, Zar und Zimmermann ranks supreme, and was a natural choice for Hamburg Opera under Mackerras when they decided to mount a production in 1969. Here, a filmed performance, sung in German, had been ably directed for television by Joachim Hess and it used excellent choreography by Isabella Vernici. Set in Saadam, Holland in 1696 it concerns the interaction between the townspeople and local boatyard where two Russians, integrated into the local community, are concealing their true identities.
 
The soloists, headed by Lucia Popp, are first-class. In 1969, Popp was at her prime, and here is heard at her freshest and very best. Singing and characterization are both superb and it is clear how she could win the hearts of her audience. Her frothy portrayal as Marie is magnetic. Her impish, vivacious charm and wide-eyed flirtations carry considerable charisma in Lieblich rotten sich die Wangen. I enjoyed this performance immensely. As a lyrical singer, Popp’s bright voice, never shrill, is on form as she demonstrates mastery of rapid passages and then effortlessly soars on long-held phrases.
 
Peter Haage has the build and strength of a person who gives you confidence that he is in charge and able to command respect from his workers. His powerful, rich baritone voice gives an equally commanding presence. He has considerable purity of voice that carries well over numbers that include choral backing. Peter Ivanov - shown in the German track-listing as Iwanov - partners Haage ably as his charge-hand in the boatyard. Visually chubby for the role his voice complements the ensembles well. Hans Sotin - one of the youngest soloists in the company - is effectively transformed into the middle-aged, meddling town mayor, Van Bett. This is intended to be an eccentric, immodest character but Sotin’s exaggerated comic portrayal, always pulling faces, is over-the-top. Yet this German audience would not consider this buffoonery out of place. However this aspect detracts from the authority that he later needs to exert to develop the plot. Both he and the bass resonant Lord Syndham sung by Noel Mangin give strong support in the ensembles. I notice that Mackerras takes the music at a similar pace to Heger (EMI CDM7 69091-2) and manages successfully to bring a touch of magic by enhancing some haunting string effects in Zum Werk, das wir beginnen.
 
Much care has been taken to provide convincing acting even by the chorus when caught in long shot. In Act I a chorus of carpenters works convincingly on a full-scale boat with sizable baulks. Continuous authentic stage business shows that there has been a consultant wood craftsman available to train the chorus in their use of tools, rare in operatic productions. The music coupled with convincing movement holds one’s attention and keep the activity in context. Consequently, we open with a strong visual impact.
 
Kirchhoff’s sets are fairly minimalist: in Act I he covers much of the stage with a practical boat-frame, being built before our eyes and over which the carpenters clamber. In Act III we are confronted with a dark bland box set. Large 18ft doors open to reveal a completed vessel ready to sail at the close of the Act. It is clear that such a production as this could only be mounted on a large stage. The costumes in rustic colours complement the set nicely. Rather odd is the use of a muff, supported by a cummerbund threaded through it, for the Marquis in Act I when it is neither cold nor representative of men’s attire at the end of the 17th century.
 
The recording is good with a sound perspective entirely appropriate for the stage image. The singers are forward placed and realistically match the visual perspective of shots. For some reason there is an error in the track indexing; tracks do not accurately synchronise with the start of a number, and begin nearly a second into the section. Separately, Arthaus apologises for some imperfections of the original that could not be eliminated, but I did not discover what they were referring to. Throughout I found the picture and sound very good, with just a little film-gate float, noticeable on static shots.
 
Arthaus have over twenty releases of productions between 1969 - this one - and 1996 that are geared more to grand opera. This production stands alone as the only operetta, and is worthy of being supplemented by others.
 
Raymond J Walker

 

 


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