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Opera Highlights - Volume 3
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Solche hergelaufne Laffen;
O wie will ich triumphieren
Franz Hawlata (bass)
Martern aller Arten
Christine Schäfer (soprano)
Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen
Paul Groves (tenor)
Salzburg Festival 1999/Marc Minkowski
Cosi fan tutte
Per pietà, ben mio, perdona
Yvonne Kenny (soprano)
Australian Opera 1995/Peter Robinson
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Geliebter, komm! Sieh dort die Grotte!
Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano)
Inbrunst im Herzen
René Kollo (tenor)
National Theatre Munich 1995/Zubin Mehta
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Wo ist er, dessen Sündenbecher jetzt voll ist?
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone); Catherine Malfitano (soprano)
Covent Garden 1997/Christoph von Dohnanyi
Ich habe keine guten Nächte
Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo-soprano); Eva Marton (soprano)
Vienna State Opera 1995/Claudio Abbado
aria from final scene
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano)
San Francisco Opera 1993/Donald Runnicles
Sound format: PCM Stereo; Picture format: 4:3 / 4:3 Letterbox
ARTHAUS MUSIC 102 051 [85:00]

The third volume of operatic highlights for Arthaus presents some further frustrating scenes from standard operas, filmed in various opera houses – frustrating in the sense that when one has started to get involved the excerpt is over and one is left in mid-air, since there are some very abrupt cuts. As a trailer for the complete works – if they exist – or just a 1½-hour-long opera concert with glimpses of some of the greatest of present day’s and yesterday’s artists, this DVD is attractive. The singing and acting is almost constantly on a very high level and there are some interesting and perspective-building stage solutions and directional ideas to note. A special feature – attractive or not is a matter of personal taste – is that all the artists also give spoken introductions to their numbers. The only exception is the aria Martern aller Arten from Die Entführung, where it is conductor Marc Minkowski who does the talking, focusing on the fact that the instrumental soloists from the orchestra are on-stage, forming a mini-band. An idea behind this production is that it points to the cultural clashes between East and West, the Western prisoners dressed in present day casual clothes and jogging shoes while the locals wear traditional Eastern costumes. Bassa Selim, being more urban, has adopted Western ideas and so doesn’t really belong in either camp. Franz Hawlata is a mightily impressive Osmin, violent and furious, bullying poor Pedrillo until some of the extras, who seemingly idly wander about the stage, interfere. Christine Schäfer’s Konstanze has been threatened with torture if she doesn’t accept to be Bassa Selim’s mistress but she still seems to be emotionally – maybe also sexually – attracted to him. She sings well with great dramatic presence, as does Paul Groves as her real lover Belmonte in a romantic reading, full of nuances, of the aria Wenn der Freude Tränen fliessen. Glorious singing is also offered by Yvonne Kenny in the notoriously taxing aria from Così fan tutte, performed as the prayer it is, kneeling before an imagined altar. Her appearance is the image of innocence, dressed in a simple white costume – or is it a nightie?

Waltraud Meier is a Venus with great charisma in an expressionist production of Tannhäuser, ample and alluring, having Tannhäuser crawling at her feet. She sings as gloriously as she looks and it is a pity that this excerpt is marred by a hilariously inartistic cut. Tannhäuser is heard in the Rome Narration and there is no mistaking René Kollo’s deep insight and dramatic conviction. Visually and histrionically this is a great reading but the voice is worn and he has developed a wobble that becomes very prominent when the voice is under pressure. There are no such limitations when we move from Munich to Covent Garden and are exposed to Bryn Terfel’s tremendous John the Baptist. As so often with Terfel his is a larger-than-life reading but it is so well conceived, so intense and sung with such power that the sheer volume is like a tornado, nailing the listener against the back of the chair. No wonder Catherine Malfitano’s Salome becomes so fascinated.

Fascination of a different kind, but just as horrifying, is encountered in Harry Kupfer’s grotesque staging of Elektra from the Vienna State Opera. Having first seen and heard the cool and articulate Brigitte Fassbaender give an eloquent spoken introduction to the scene, her transformation to a ghostlike Klytemnestra comes as a shock. Her eloquence, her expressiveness, her unique identification makes the character almost climb out of the telly and appear life-size in the living-room. Eva Marton is a similarly forbidding Elektra.

From the grey horror of Elektra to the rose-coloured evening glow of Capriccio is a leap in time of more than thirty years and a 180º change of musical direction. Introduced and lovingly performed by Kiri Te Kanawa, the Countess aria concerning which is more important, the words or the music, is a fitting end to this opera concert, leaving us without a strict answer: they are inseparable.

Much to enjoy here, if one likes bleeding chunks of opera, the major drawback being the spoken introductions, which after repeated listening and watching will probably become tiring and should have been given separate cue points. The documentation is meagre, the booklet containing a tracklist and artists’ portraits but to get to know where, when and by whom – apart from the main characters – the excerpts were recorded, one has to read the credits after each number. Unnecessarily slipshod.

Göran Forsling

Previous reviews of this series:
Volume 1
Volume 2



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