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Inge Borkh
CD 1
Robert SCHUMANN (1810–1856)
Genoveva (1850) Excerpts
1. Overture [9:33]
Act I
2. Dialogue [0:19]
3. No. 1 Chorus: Erhebet Herz und Hände [2:06]
4. No. 2 Recitative: Zu einem gottgefäll’gen Kampfe rüstet ihr euch! [3:40]
5. Dialogue [0:10]
6. No. 3 Duet: So wenig Monden erst, dass ich dich fand [2:31]
7. Dialogue [0:24]
8. No. 7 Finale: Sieh da, welch feiner Rittersmann! [8:22]
Act II
9. Dialogue [0:31]
10. No. 9 Duet: Wenn ich ein Vöglein wär [6:31]
11. Dialogue [0:29]
12. No. 12 Finale: Sacht, sacht, aufgemacht! [6:51]
13. Dialogue [0:25]
14. No. 13 Duet: Nichts halt mich mehr [10:25]
Act IV
15. Dialogue [0:18]
16. No. 17 Scene: Kennt Ihr den Ring? [6:33]
17. Dialogue [0:26]
18. No. 19 Duet: O lass es ruh’n, dein Aug, auf mir! [2:58]
19. No. 21 Finale: Seid mir gegrüßt nach schwerer Prüfung [3:42]
Maria Stader (soprano) – Genoveva; Inge Borkh (soprano) – Margaretha; Fridolin Mosbacher (baritone) – Siegfried; Gottfried Fehr (bass-baritone) – Hidulfus; Balthasar; Theodor Bitzos (tenor) – Golo; and others; Rundfunkorchester und –Chor Bern/Christoph Lertz
rec. Bern, 16 May 1950
Richard STRAUSS (1864–1949)
Elektra (1909) Excerpts and spoken dialogues
20. Aria: Allein! Weh, ganz allein [9:47]
CD 2
1. Dialogue: Allein! Weh, ganz allein [7:05]
2. Duet: Was willst du, fremder Mensch? [24:49]
3. Dialogue: Was willst du, fremder Mensch? [8:48]
4. Finale: Ob ich nicht höre? [7:29]
5. Dialogue: Ob ich nicht höre? [3:13]
Inge Borkh (soprano) – Elektra; Siv Ericsdotter (soprano) – Chrysothemis; Randolph Symonette (bass-baritone) – Orest; David Molnár (baritone) – Orest (in dialogues)
Orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma/Antal Dorati
rec. Rome, 22 February 1965
Spoken dialogues rec. in Munich in 1999
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906–1975)
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk (1934)
6. Interlude [2:18]
Act I, scene 3
7. Time for bed. The day is over [4:17]
8. The foal runs after the filly [3:50]
9. Who’s there? Who’s that knocking? [8:48]
Inge Borkh (soprano) – Katerina; Dino Dondi (bass) – Boris; Giovanni Gibin (tenor) – Sergey; Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Nino Sanzogno
rec. Milan, 5 October 1964
GALA GL100.805 [76:02 + 70:36]


Experience Classicsonline

The dramatic soprano Inge Borkh (real name: Ingeborg Simon) was born in 1917 in Mannheim, Germany, to a Swiss father and an Austrian mother. She spent her youth primarily in Vienna and trained in spoken theatre very early, making her stage debut in Linz in 1937. She soon discovered that she had a good singing voice as well and studied singing in Milan and Salzburg, which led to a second debut, now as lyric soprano, in Strauss’s Der Zigeunerbaron in 1940. During the war she was confined to theatres in Switzerland but from 1945 she launched an international career that took her to all the major opera-houses. Well into the early 1950s she was still singing lyric and lyric-dramatic roles but ventured into such demanding roles as Leonora in Fidelio and Aida. Her breakthrough as a hochdramatisch soprano came in Basel in 1952 when she sang Magda Sorel in Menotti’s The Consul. She was a sensation and from then on she was in heavy demand for the real heavyweights: Salome, Elektra, the Dyer’s Wife in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Turandot, Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth and also the other Lady Macbeth – in Shostakovich’s opera, which in its revised version is normally entitled Katerina Ismailova. Of these Salome and Elektra were her signature roles and it was after a series of performances of Elektra that she bade farewell to the operatic stage in 1973. But she didn’t have a leisured life in retirement. She taught at the Basel Academy of Music, returned to spoken theatre and went on singing cabaret songs and chansons.

Her visits to recording studios during her heydays were infrequent. She sang the title role in the first stereo recording of Turandot for Decca in 1955 opposite Mario Del Monaco and Renata Tebaldi and recorded Elektra in 1960 for Deutsche Grammophon with Karl Böhm conducting. For the same company she also sang in Carl Orff’s Antigonae and Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten, the latter a live recording from Munich. In later years, however, adventurous companies have dug out a lot of interesting material from radio archives and other sources, including a Medea from Berlin in the late 1950s that I reviewed a couple of years ago. The present issue – I haven’t heard volume one – is highly interesting for the repertoire, even though the technical quality leaves a lot to be desired.

Robert Schumann’s only opera Genoveva was a failure at the premiere in Leipzig in 1850 and ran for only three performances. It has been revived occasionally but never been much of a success. The only music from it that is heard every now and then is the overture, which is a masterpiece, but there is a lot of first class music in the rest of the score and accusations of Schumann lacking ‘dramatic vitality’ as Franz Liszt put it, is not wholly fair. It is true that there is little blood and thunder in the excerpts recorded here but it is far from bloodless. The act II finale is a truly dramatic ensemble. The plot, based on the story of Genevieve of Brabant and taking place during the Crusades, has also been ridiculed and there is more than a grain of truth in this. I am not going to relate the story here but intending buyers should know that Andrew Palmer’s excellent notes also include a synopsis. Moreover there is a narrator giving some background between the numbers.

The performance here was obviously produced by Swiss Radio to commemorate the centenary of the first production. The sound is low-fi with thin strings and strident brass and the fine overture suffers greatly. Still the recording is sufficiently consistent to give the listener a fair idea of the pathos and ardour of then work and Christoph Lertz’s conducting is dynamic and stringent. The subtleties of the score tend to be obscured but this notwithstanding it is a fine reading. The narrator, on the other hand, is extremely well recorded, which leads me to think that it was recorded much later. The voice leaps out of the speakers with a realism that is quite stunning.

Of the singers the best known is no doubt the Hungarian-born Maria Stader in the title role. Her voice was not large but she employed it sensitively. One recognizes her slightly fluttery tone immediately and she gives an attractive reading of the role. Interestingly Inge Borkh in the secondary role of Margaretha has a similar timbre at this stage of her career and I had difficulties telling the two sopranos from each other. According to the track-list in the booklet Margaretha and Golo should be the only singers in the act I finale, but I was convinced that I also heard Stader. In the act finale both sopranos are listed but I was never sure who was singing when. Anyway the lyric Inge Borkh doesn’t make an impression in the way I had anticipated. The dramatic tenor Theodor Bitzos (Golo) takes some time to warm up and his phrasing is rather sloppy. It is a rather heavy Germanic voice with lots of power but little lyrical sense. He hits the top notes accurately but they are often pinched. The deeper male voices are more attractive. Fridolin Mosbacher (Siegfried) has a sonorous and warm baritone and Gottfried Fehr, singing Hidulfus as well as Balthasar, is an impressive bass-baritone. Both were new names to me.

It should be said that there is not too much we hear of Inge Borkh. She appears in the first two finales and in a long duet in act III, where her partner Siegfried has much more to sing. In a box devoted to her it is a bit strange that on much more than half the first CD we hear not a note by Inge Borkh.

This is rectified in the excerpts from Elektra and Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk. Recorded live in 1965, Elektra also suffers from murky and distanced recording but Inge Borkh’s incisive dramatic voice penetrates the orchestral fabric, steady and warm. She is impressive in Allein! Weh, ganz allein, warmer than Birgit Nilsson who was her only serious competitor in the role. The long scene with Orest is masterly, though Randolph Symonette is a stern Orest, and she sings gloriously in the finale where we also catch a glimpse of Swedish soprano Siv Ericsdotter as Chrysothemis. The quality of sound is still a hindrance to complete enjoyment and the average listener is recommended to acquire the complete recording with Böhm or, better still, the superb RCA disc with Fritz Reiner, including the same three scenes as here and coupled with the final scene from Salome plus the orchestral Dance of the seven veils – all recorded in impressive mid-1950s stereo sound and issued on SACD a couple of years ago.

What is really fascinating in this box is the inclusion of the same three scenes from Elektra, recorded in 1999 by the then 82-year-old Inge Borkh speaking the part. She is, at least partly, accompanied by an anonymous pianist and David Molnár sings Orest’s part with insight but shaky tone. That Ms Borkh was an outstanding actress is a known and certified fact and her reading of the Allein! ‘aria’ is a psychological thriller. The intensity and the wide spectrum of nuances and other expressive means are amazing. Who would believe that this youthful voice belongs to an octogenarian? The recording, it should be added, is from the private collection of Inge Borkh.

The sound is a great deal better on the excerpts from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth from Mtsensk, recorded live at La Scala. The acoustics are dry as a biscuit but that rather suits this music. The orchestral interlude is rhythmically vital under Nino Sanzogno’s experienced leadership and Inge Borkh, always putting the theatrical aspects in the forefront, is as expressive as ever. It is perhaps a bit strange to hear this of all operas performed in Italian but it works well. Giovanni Gibin is a good Sergey whereas Dino Dondi is a rather foursquare Boris – not totally out of place, actually.

I regard this more as an issue for specialists rather than average opera-lovers but Gala should still be applauded for making this material available.

Göran Forsling 



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