Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Operas from the Salzburg Festival 1966, 1982 and 2003
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD 107 521 [180:00 +189:00 +169:00]
These three operas from the Salzburg Festival represent productions and singers from nearly three generations. The Festival has always been able to call upon and cast the best Mozart singers of their time. It has been considered an honour to be invited to participate. Over the period concerned, production values and practices have changed unrecognisably. Esoteric and updated interpretations within what we have come to call regietheater are now the order of the day at many operatic addresses including Salzburg. Whether or not the producer concepts enhance the composer’s musical creation, intention or vision, is not deemed relevant. Seats sold and audience satisfaction often come a poor second to fostering what are considered to be imaginative artistic innovations. Imaginative and artistic invention and enhancement are not the prerogative of the latest craze. This is very evident in the first two of the three operas featured in this collection issued at reduced price.
1. Le Nozze Di Figaro - Opera buffa in four acts, K492 (1786)
Susanna, maid to the Countess - Reri Grist (soprano); Figaro, manservant to the Count - Walter Berry (bass-baritone); Count Almaviva - Ingvar Wixell (baritone); Countess Almaviva - Claire Watson (soprano); Cherubino, a young buck around the palace - Edith Mathis (soprano); Marcellina, a mature lady owed a debt by Figaro - Margarethe Bence (mezzo), Don Basilio, a music master and schemer - David Thaw (tenor);. Don Bartolo - Zoltan Kelemen (bass); Barbarina - Deirdre Aselford (soprano)
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Karl Böhm
rec. live, Salzburg Festival, 1966
Stage direction by Günther Rennert
Set and Costume Design by Ludwig Heinrich
Video Director: Herman Lanske
Sound Format: PCM Mono, DD 5.1. Picture Format: 4:3. DVD Format NTSC 2 x DVD 9
Subtitle Languages: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese
Available separately as 107 057 [2 DVDs: 180:00]
As I note above, and in my full review of this black and white 1966 recording of Mozart’s most popular opera, the Salzburg Festival has always drawn the cream of singers. This cast includes some of the all-time great Mozart interpreters. Reri Grist’s Susanna, petite and pert in manner, true in vocal characterisation and excellent in diction, is a particular delight. Her act four recit and aria are a wonderful postlude to an outstanding contribution (DVD 2 CH. 27). As her eponymous paramour, Walter Berry is quite some revolutionary; it would take a very strong count Almaviva to master him. His singing is full-toned with his rounded bass-baritone flexible and expressive in Figaro’s arias (DVD 1 CH.6 and 17) and his acting convincing. This is particularly so for the concluding act in the garden (DVD 2) where the various confusions bring Figaro, his bride and the put-upon Countess full justification for the plotting that has gone before.
Of the Almavivas and their entourage, Claire Watson’s warm and womanly Countess comes over well. She finds no difficulty with the tessitura of her two big arias whilst bringing expression and feeling to the emotions they convey (DVD 1 CH.18 and DVD 2 CH.10). Ingvar Wixell sings strongly as the Count, albeit overshadowed a little by his servant in terms of vocal strength. That lovely Mozartian, Edith Mathis, as the young buck Cherubino looks a little too feminine of face. However she sings her two arias with great beauty and acts the role convincingly, particularly after entering Susanna’s room via a window (DVD 1 CH 11-17) and then having to hide herself as the Count arrives. She graces both arias with tonal beauty and phrasing too rarely heard these days. Zoltan Kelemen is a cocky Don Bartolo (DVD 1 CH.8) with Margarethe Bence a rather fusty-looking Marcellina. Neither she nor David Thaw’s adequately acted music-master get their act four aria. Deirdre Aselford is vocally a little thin as Barbarina but acts her role well, particularly in act four.
Ludwig Heinrich’s classic sets and costumes made me regret the lack of colour. Karl Böhm’s phrasing and gently sprung rhythms allow the composer’s music to flow whilst giving the singers adequate time to phrase with delicacy and character. A little matter of changing styles is evidenced in the return of a singer to the stage after exiting at the end of an aria, to take a bow, or even two. Thankfully this practise has now died out with soloists criticised for even showing the hint of a smile as they maintain role during the enthusiastic reception following a bravura aria.
As in my full review I continue to think this classy and classic performance from another era of opera-going well deserves to be seen despite its technical limitations when compared to the present day.
2. Die Zauberflöte - Opera in two acts, K.620 (1791)
Pamina - Ileana Cotrubas (soprano); Tamino - Peter Schreier (tenor); Papageno - Christian Boesch (baritone); Sarastro - Martti Talvela (bass); Queen of the Night - Edita Gruberova (soprano); Papagena - Gudrun Seiber (soprano); Speaker - Walter Berry (bass); Monostatos - Horst Hiestermann (tenor); Three ladies - Edda Moser, Ann Murray and Ingrid Mayr
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/James Levine
Director, Set and Costume Designer: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
TV and video Director: Brian Large
rec. live, Salzburg Festival, 1982
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, Picture Format 4:3 colour, Region Code. 0
Subtitle languages: German (original language) English, French, Spanish, Italian
Available separately as 107199 [2 DVDs: 189:00]
This production played in the vast Felsenreitschule in Salzburg for a total of eleven continuous years after its premiere on 28 July 1978, setting an all-time record for Mozart productions there. To my mind it has not been bettered since. The wide stage, with an additional pop-up second stage, and the use of the rear arcades, is creative imagination at its very best. The Felsenreitschule came into being in the 17th century, created on a site where stone was quarried for construction of the present cathedral. The three tiers of arcades were originally from where the audience watched animal-baiting and the like. Director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s creative use of the stage space and arcades is remarkable. Add a cast including some who sang at the premiere of the production five years before, all outstanding interpreters of their roles and totally at ease with the vocal demands of the music, and a success of the highest order is on the cards. Add also a conductor and orchestra in whose blood the music ran and a memorable performance was expected and realised. My full review is also available separately.
Unusually, the production includes pretty well all the spoken dialogue. This can seem, as in act one (DVD 1 CHs.6 and 14) to be a little tedious and is generally much trimmed. Christian Boesch sings Papageno with appropriate action and vocal nuance. His is not a name that resounds like some of the other soloists, but it should. His singing and superb acting, rolling, falling looking scared to death, are integral to the success and vibrancy of this performance. He was, I believe, the only one of the original cast who sang in every revival. Several others from the premiere bring quality to this performance, notable the physically imposing Sarastro of Martti Talvela with his vocal sonority and gravitas particularly evident in his two arias (DVD 2 CHs.3 and 14). Likewise, in her two arias, Edita Gruberova as Queen of the Night is simply outstanding, her coloratura pinpoint and her high F in the act two Der Holle Räche absolutely secure (DVD 1 CH. 9 and DVD 2 CH.12). Ileana Cotrubas’s warm stage personality comes over well and if vocally she does not match Lucia Popp in the near contemporaneous audio recording under Haitink (EMI) hers is a considerable portrayal with Ach, ich fühl’s a highlight (DVD 2. CH.18).
New to the cast after the premiere was Peter Schreier as Tamino. Looking a little his age in the odd close-up, his mellifluous Mozart tenor is heard to good effect from the start with Dies Bildnis phrased with his renowned elegance (DVD 1 CH.7). The lesser roles of Monostatos, Papagena and Speaker are all taken with vocal appeal and acted with conviction by Horst Hiestermann, Gudrun Seiber and Walter Berry respectively. The three ladies, Edda Moser, Ann Murray and Ingrid Mayr are distinctive and well blended. The quality Chorus of the Vienna State Opera and the three boys are icing on this wonderful cake.
Some great singing and acted interpretations in an imaginative production stand alongside the finest available.
3. La Clemenza di Tito - Opera in two acts, K.621 (1791)
Tito, Emperor of Rome - Michael Schade (tenor); Sesto, a Roman patrician, friend of Tito, in love with Vitellia - Vesselina Kasarova (mezzo); Vitellia, daughter of the emperor Vitellius - Dorothea Röschmann (soprano); Servilia, sister of Sesto, in love with Annio - Barbara Bonney (soprano); Annio, a Roman patrician, friend of Sesto, in love with Servilia - Elena Garanča (mezzo); Publio - Luca Pisaroni (bass baritone)
Chorus of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Stage Director: Martin Kušej. Set design by Jens Kilian. Costume design by Bettina Walter
TV and video Director: Brian Large
rec. live, Felsenreitschule, Salzburg, August 2003
Sound Format: LPCM Stereo. DD 5.1. DTS 5.1. Picture Format: 16:9. NTSC
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish
Booklet essay and synopsis in English, French, German
Available separately as 107181 [2 DVDs: 169:00]
When Mozart was approached by the impresario Guardasoni with the commission to write an opera for Emperor Leopold’s Coronation Day in Prague on 6 September 1791 it must have come as a considerable surprise to him. He well knew he was not flavour of the month in the Royal Court, particularly with the Empress. By the time a positive decision had been made to present a newly composed opera as part of the celebrations, and Salieri had refused the commission due to pressure of work, time was very short and Mozart was heavily involved in the composition of DieZauberflöte. Much has been written and conjectured about the how Mozart might have composed Tito, including suggestions that he did so in his head during the three day coach journey from Vienna to Prague, writing it out on his arrival. Research on the paper used in the manuscript score, which fortunately survives, indicates a more complex story. Mozart certainly wrote some numbers from the opera before he had any idea of the commission coming his way. La clemenza di Tito was probably chosen for the Coronation Day opera because of the ready availability of Metastasio’s libretto that could easily be adapted by Mazzola, the Court poet who had replaced Da Ponte. Certainly time constraints were a factor for Mozart and he took his pupil Süssmayer to Prague, a mere twelve days before the scheduled premiere, and delegated to him the writing of some unaccompanied recitatives. That Tito was in the rather static opera seria form might have disappointed Mozart whose last work in this genre had been Idomeneo in 1781. Since then his operas had moved on in style and vitality as well as humour.
Working with Mazzola, Mozart was able to breathe some vitality into Metastasio’s original libretto. Despite these efforts circumstances surrounding the Coronation Day lead to the initial failure of the work. However, by the final performance on 30 September, the night of the premiere of DieZauberflöte in Vienna, it was a resounding success. In the following forty years Tito stood alongside Don Giovanni as Mozart’s most popular stage work until it fell into a decline from which it has only emerged in the last forty years or so.
Like the production of Die Zauberflöte above, the present performance was staged in the vast Felsenreitschule whose origins I describe above.It was presented in the second year of Peter Ruzicka’s superintendence of the Salzburg Festival after the controversial reign of Gerard Mortier, both of whom might be considered bland compared to what has followed since.
The opera opens with Tito on the phone during the overture (DVD 1 CH.3). Although dressed in what could be a cousin of a Roman Toga he quickly divests this and is seen in modern dress like the rest of the cast. With two women playing the roles of men, and the director keen to play up the sexual relationships involved, there is a lot of female on female intimate caressing and petting. Of the two women en travesti, the young Elina Garanča looks like a young male and distinctly more masculine than Vesselina Kasarova whose hairstyle is unmistakably feminine. Updating extends to the presence of balaclava-faced terrorists blowing up Rome in spectacular fashion (DVD 1 CH.26).
Whatever the staging idiosyncrasies, and there are more than I mention, Salzburg always draws on the best singers and this is the case with this cast. Add to this the ability to act, despite, or because of the director’s ideas and demands. At least Mozart’s music gets full due albeit that I find some of Harnoncourt’s tempi on the slow side, certainly compared with Levine on the film of Ponelle’s production (DG 00440 073 4128). However, it must be said that the textures he draws from the Vienna Philharmonic are lush. Kasarova sings the aria Parto, Ma tu, ben mio, one of the show-stoppers, with lovely tone and expression (DVD 1. CH. 21). Dorothea Röschmann plays and sings the role of the jealous plotter with distinction and despite having to half undress on stage, whilst Barbara Bonney as Servilia is a delight on ear and eye. Garanča’s singing and portrayal are indicative of her future star status, albeit I find it amazing from this performance that her voice developed to the extent of her becoming the Carmen de nos jours. It’s even sufficient to conquer the large barn that is the nearly four thousand seat Metropolitan Opera (see review). Michael Schade's sung assumption, modern clothes or not, is vocally convincing being mellifluous or dramatic as required whilst his acted portrayal is equal to the demands of the role (DVD.1 CH. 14 and DVD. 2 CH.16). Luca Pisaroni is an excellent Publio, tall and imposing. He is lighter of voice than is often the case (DVD 2. CH. 16).
My colleague, who attended a live performance of this production and cast, and later reviewed this DVD issue first seen on the Opus Arts label (see review), shares my feelings about the over-sexualisation of the production. The production demeans Mozart’s opera rather than enhances it. Regrettably, this is a pattern that has accelerated at Salzburg, and elsewhere. That being said one would be very lucky to attend a performance anywhere in the world with the quality of singing and vocal characterisation to match that found here.
The accompanying booklet essay, in English, French and German, is appropriately titled: A new way of looking at ‘La Clemenza Di Tito’. As with the booklet accompanying DieZauberflöte, who is singing is not indicated in the generous Chapter listings.
Robert J Farr
Outstanding singing in three productions spread over thirty-seven years. They illustrate changes in opera performance practice and production policy over that time.