Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail is an opera which has done
well on record. There is a depth of talent on the various recordings
to cater for most tastes. The older recordings tend to have
more cuts than the recent versions which will bother some listeners
more than others. Not being a German speaker I find that the
older sets – the 1956 Beecham, for instance - include a satisfying
amount of dialogue to keep the story clear but not enough to
be a chore. Quite often the singing and lower prices may justify
buying the older sets despite their textual limitations. Alternatively
you may think 'I'm only going to have one copy of this opera
I better make it complete/in digital sound'. Either way we benefit
from a good variety of recordings for an opera which does not
enjoy the popularity of Mozart's Italian operas - at least outside
the Germany-speaking world. A factor in fewer producing this
opera must be the difficulty of the title roles.
This mid-price recording from 1966 has a strong cast. The closest
competition historically were Thomas Beecham's recording and
the DG set conducted by Eugen Jochum. These sets are now available
on CD at mid-price or even budget price. The sopranos selected
by Krips, Beecham or Jochum are among the best on record; for
that quality today you may look to Gruberova or Studer. However,
the virtue of the vintage sets is the way they feel like cohesive
performances by singers used to singing with each other. The
Konstanzes may not be the best on record but they are impressive
and don't ‘let the side down’- they still give good performances.
Nicolai Gedda as Belmonte is as stylish as you would expect
with his voice sounding flexible and clear without wear or tear
even though this recording dates from a period where he was
experimenting with heavy roles such as Lohengrin. Remembering
that Arnold in William Tell was not far off nor Raoul
in Les Huguenots it shows the skill Gedda had in managing
his voice intelligently. Recorded in 'close-up' Gedda's voice
had lost some of the softness which characterized his earlier
1950s work. I suppose this is inevitable but all the same I
feel that if the record was made a little earlier we would have
reaped the rewards. Gedda gets off to a skilful start with ''Hier
soll ich dich denn sehen'' [CD1, Track 2] even though the higher
reaches of this aria are a little strained. I think he was not
in best voice for this recording. Nevertheless his exchanges
with Gottlob Frick (Osmin) in Act One are nice and lively if
rather self-conscious in front of the microphones.
All the same, the result is more dramatic than Leopold Simoneau's
performance for Beecham which is sweetly sung if a trifle bland.
Overall, however, neither tenor can really compete with the
wonderful Fritz Wunderlich for Jochum who is a marvel - sweet,
Italianate tone used with intelligence and charm. Gedda's contemporary
recording of Don Giovanni does not sound so hard-toned
with Klemperer and I believe he is on better form for the slightly
later recording (in English) with Menuhin. I notice this throughout
- for instance his part in the ensemble ''Ach, Belmonte, ach
mein Leben!' [Track 13 CD2]. The difference for me is that Wunderlich's
singing would stand up to comparison with some of the best solo
recordings available on 45 or download but the same cannot quite
be said of Gedda here.
The role of Konstanze is sung by a variety of sopranos from
those with unusually flexible spinto voices – quite dark voices
with reserves of power but also at times lyrical – to outright
coloratura singers. The coloraturas tend to revel in the vocal
gymnastics of the part but lack spinto drama. Rothenberger's
voice is light and despite the heavier fare in her repertoire
(Madama Butterfly) she is properly a coloratura soprano. Although
the voice has some vibrancy, the result is less dramatic than
many other versions on record and can sound rather pallid. I
find she is a little over-parted and cannot rival Lois Marshall
(Beecham, 1956) who I believe has been unfairly belittled in
reviews. Konstanze's aria "Ach ich liebte'' in Act One
has been sung by other light sopranos - notably a really excellent
recording by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf - and Rothenberger is quite
successful here. The result is not opulent; I notice an uncanny
resemblance to the thinned-down timbre of Beverly Sills during
The aria ''Martern aller Arten'' requires a defiance and depth
of emotion which holds up the drama somewhat but it is one of
the most remarkable arias for coloratura soprano. In this performance
I find Rothenberger rather frustratingly underpowered. She is
stylish and shows some character, I still find this performance
an improvement over Koth on the Jochum set, but none of these
versions sets new standards in the role. For really satisfying
contemporary performances I suggest Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland
in recitals/rehearsals. They bring larger, darker voices to
this dramatic show-piece and still manage the coloratura well.
In a complete performance I think the most satisfying of all
is Edita Gruberova with Solti; she manages to combine the best
attributes of the light sopranos and the more heavy sopranos.
She is one of the few modern sopranos to begin to equal some
of the great extracts put down on 78 and LP.
Gottlob Frick certainly has the stature for the role of Osmin
which is a gift of sorts to a bass with the requisite flexibility
of voice and grand manner. I have the feeling that Frick, as
with the other singers, is perhaps too closely recorded with
the effect that any hardness or wear on his still-rich voice
is revealed in a rather unforgiving light. The result is
vivid but there is no denying that Frick was in easier and fresher
voice for the recording with Beecham some ten years earlier.
Although Frick sounds a little worn at times he is very characterful
throughout - milking his arias with the best. He is an exceptional
colleague in such pieces as 'Vivat, Bacchus!'' with (Gerhard
Unger) being full of bite and comic vitality. Comparing this
performance of the virtuoso aria ''O! wie will ich triumphiren''
with the Beecham recording you notice that the older set sounds
more like a live version with this set performed for the microphones.
Frick's performance here is still something to marvel at, a
classic, with the characterisation being a deal more vivid than
others on record. From the beginning of the opera, [Track 3]
when we are introduced to Osmin, Frick is larger than life.
He steals the limelight entirely as the composer requires. This
is especially the case in the gruff confrontation with his love-rival
Pedrillo. The latter is sung here by the really excellent Gerhard
Unger who sounds just like Gedda at times.
Krips is a lively presence throughout - eager and bright in
the overture and maintaining that throughout. This performance
is less charming I think than Beecham which has a great sense
of occasion. However, it is just as good as Jochum with the
standard remaining exceptionally high. One good example is the
amiable and lively introduction to Track 13 on CD2.
I find having the synopsis and the libretto on a bonus CD a
real nuisance - the number of times you sit back and read the
libretto in your hands while listening along on a hifi/portable
music player surely far exceed the times you are going to access
the bonus CD on a PC. I far prefer having a hard copy of the
libretto which you can read at any time - irrespective of having
access to a PC.
I suggest that the Beecham recording is the more satisfying
performance overall especially at the budget price available
on-line. I must include the proviso that each of the other sets
has its good points. The Jochum one, although it enshrines the
performance by Fritz Wunderlich which has me reaching for superlatives,
is perhaps not quite as good as this Josef Krips set. It is,
despite the issues I have raised, well conducted and well sung
if not quite the sum of its parts. For the whole picture one
probably needs a modern recording as well with my choices in
this connection being the Solti with Gruberova and the Gardiner
recording, both digital.