It is always a nice feeling to renew acquaintance with old friends.
And so it is with this Beecham Entführung, one of the
earliest LP opera sets I bought. At the time - nearly thirty
years ago now - it brought me great pleasure. Nothing has changed
except that here there is the added bonus of five arias sung
by Léopold Simoneau.
Paramount in Beecham's
Entführung is a sense of the theatre. He brings a lightness
of touch to all, highlighting the comedic situations while
retaining the deeper issues (oppression, treatment of women)
at stake in the plot. True, he plays with the order of the
arias a little, but not to upset the plot. He moves Constanze's
'Martern aller Arten' on an act, from Act 2 to Act 3. Remember
this is before the days of political correctness in music,
and Beecham was a great tinkerer.
Beecham was a
great conductor, too, though. Listen to how he encourages
his chorus (the Beecham Choral Society) - to heights of celebration
in the exultant Act 1 chorus, 'Singt dem grossen Bassa Lieder'.
The sense of near-abandon is also heard in the faster sections
of the overture … and how Beecham relishes the 'Turkish' percussion!
Ensembles work extremely well (try the end of Act 1), even
if one has to turn a blind eye to a few momentary lapses of
orchestra/singer coordination. Of course, it is the Beecham
sparkle that one looks out for, and nowhere is this more in
evidence than in the Act 2 drinking duet 'Vivat Bacchus!'
(Pedrillo and Osmin). The orchestral staccato is light as
If Lois Marshall
sounds a little tremulous in her Act 1 aria, 'Ach ich liebte',
her Act 2 'Welche Wechsel … Traurigkeit' is infinitely touching.
Ilse Hollweg shines in the other soprano part, Blonde. Her
security up high and purity of tone in 'Durch Zärtlichkeit'
is awe-inspiring, as is her overall range. On the other end
of the emotional scale lies her Act 2 'Welche Wonne', negotiated
with enviable ease by Hollweg.
has all the power for a successful opening of 'Frisch zum
Kampfe!' and yet, when it comes to Act 3's 'In Mohrenland
gefangen' he spins a legato line of the finest silk … and
how delightful is the RPO strings' pizzicato accompaniment
here! Gottlob Frick is the superb bass chosen for Osmin. He
fully holds the extreme bass notes Mozart requires of him.
His Act 1 comedy is truly amusing, as is his sense of largesse
in the later 'O, wie will ich triumphieren'. Simoneau shines
brightly as a young sounding yet dignified Belmonte; 'O wie
ängstlich' is truly superb.
by the way, was recorded in a completely separate location
and on a completely different recording date … and actually
in a different country! Only Hollweg and Unger speak their
own lines. Yet it all edits together beautifully.
In 2005 I recommended
DVD of this opera conducted by Gustav Kühn (Glyndebourne
1980), and that recommendation still stands for that medium.
Yet Beecham seems truer to the spirit of Mozart in this audio-only
The sound for
the bonus items is rather more harsh. It hails from Ducretet-Thomson
rather than HMV originals. Thankfully this is something which
affects the orchestra more than the voice. Simoneau's honeyed
tenor is marvellously lyrical in the Clemenza excerpt,
his voice stretching effortlessly to the highest notes. It
is this ease with the higher end, plus the seamless legato,
that make the Zauberflöte excerpt a thing of such beauty.
You may raise
an eyebrow at the Entführung excerpt, especially if
you are in possession of the CD booklet, for it is not listed
in the main body of the opera. In fact 'Ich baue ganz auf
deine Stärke' is an alternative for Belmonte's Act 3 aria,
'Wenn der Freude' which is heard. Simoneau spins the
long melismas of the alternative aria effectively, and Jouve
accompanies musically - all the while proving he does not
possess the Beecham magic, though. The Idomeneo excerpt
is a salutary reminder as to the greatness of this wonderful
opera. Readers new to Idomeneo who are not averse to
opera in English could do worse than invest in the Chandos
recording.(CHAN3103). Finally, the concert aria, K431. The
link here is that K431 was written for Johann Adamberger,
who created the role of Belmonte. A typical text of unhappy
love - not given in the booklet, alas - is declaimed then
sung with great feeling by Simoneau. The more exposed orchestral
moments expose the failings of both recording and ensemble,
I should point
out that my review copy, whilst containing the correct music,
had the Barenboim Don Giovanni emblazoned on the discs
themselves. The music was correct, thankfully, and I can only
assume this was a one-off or a fault in early pressings of
this set. Annotation is confined to a scene-by-scene synopsis
of the opera and of the appendix of opera arias.
At this price, it
seems inconceivable not to snap it up.