Schöne Nacht, du Liebesnacht
Operatic highlights sung in German and originally issued by Electrola between 1955 and 1974
full details at end of review
EMI CLASSICS 9 28303 2 [7 CDs: c. 09:00.00]
Devotees of opera in English will recall a series of discs of highlights from popular operas recorded by artists from the Sadlers Wells Opera in the 1960s. German-speaking devotees of opera in the vernacular were similarly served by a series of excerpts recorded by Electrola over a longer period and featuring artists better known outside their native land than those on the English discs. The present box offers highlights from four Italian and three French operas from the Electrola series. Its appeal to German-speaking collectors is obvious but it has considerable interest for others too. This derives mainly from hearing admirable and well-known singers in unfamiliar roles. For example, although he appears on only two of the discs Gottlob Frick immediately makes the listener sit up with his vivid characterisation. Whether as Bartolo or Basilio in the Rossini or as Donizetti’s Raimondo he shows what can be done using the text rather than simply displaying his magnificent voice. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Valentine in Faust (or Margarethe as it was called in German productions) provides another demonstration of how imaginative projection of the text can bring the music to life even when sung in translation.
Not all of the singers achieve these results. I find Hermann Prey’s Figaro overdone even in Italian but in German he sounds even more of a bully. It is good to hear the distinctive voices of Richard Holm, Josef Traxel and Rudolf Schock but none are at their best here. All sing pleasantly but lacking the essential flexibility needed for this music. Indeed the only tenor to make a positive impression is Nicolai Gedda. He is more than satisfactory in Puccini and Gounod and outstanding as Adam’s Postillion. Indeed that disc is one of the best in the box with all the cast making the most of the opportunities. Perhaps it does sound more like Lortzing in German but nonetheless the results are very winning. The same cannot be said of the Don Pasquale disc which sounds heavy and lacks vocal grace.
The sopranos are generally satisfactory even if the three discs with Erika Köth tend to the efficient - in itself no mean feat - rather than the dramatically involving. Anneliese Rothenberger has a somewhat mature-sounding voice for Butterfly but she clearly understands the role and gives a moving performance overall. Rita Streich and Edda Moser provide much pleasure in their varied roles.
Recordings are generally satisfactory with the more recent sets showing obvious superiority. The choice of extracts is sometimes odd, with nothing from Lucia di Lammermoor after the mad scene and an eccentric choice from Il barbiere di Siviglia. By way of extras we are given two Offenbach Overtures and two alternative extracts from Les contes d’Hoffmann, and a dim and unexciting performance of the Ballet Music from Faust. There was ample space on the other discs to include other German language performances of those operas which would have greatly added to the set’s appeal. It would have helped also to have longer gaps between the extracts. There is no booklet and no notes on the music or performance let alone any text or translations. Incidentally the title of the set is the start of the translated Barcarolle from Les contes d’Hoffmann.
Clearly, as I said at the start, the set’s appeal will be largely to German-speaking collectors. Nonetheless there is much here for the curious music-lover with an interest in the singers represented as well as providing ample food for thought on the vexed question of opera in the vernacular.  

John Sheppard

See also review by Jonathan Woolf

Full details
CD 1
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Der Barbier von Sevilla (Il barbiere di Siviglia) [46:16]
Count Almaviva - Richard Holm (tenor); Bartolo & Basilio - Gottlob Frick (bass); Rosina - Erika Köth (soprano); Figaro - Hermann Prey (baritone); Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Schüchter
recorded in Berlin in 1957
CD 2
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Don Pasquale [50:28]
Don Pasquale - Wilhelm Streinz (bass); Dr Malatesta - Marcel Cordes (baritone); Ernesto - Josef Traxel (tenor); Norina - Erika Köth (soprano); Notary - Helmut Winkenstern (baritone); Berlin State Opera Chorus; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Werner Schmidt-Boelcke;
recorded in Berlin in 1957
CD 3
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Lucia di Lammermoor [47:34]
Lord Henry Ashton - Josef Metternich (baritone); Lucia - Erika Köth (soprano); Edgardo - Rudolf Schock (tenor); Lord Arthur Bucklaw - Manfred Schmidt (tenor); Raimondo - Gottlob Frick (bass); Alisa - Herta Töpper (contralto); Berlin State Opera Chorus; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Schüchter
recorded in Berlin in 1957
CD 4
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) Madama Butterfly [51:33]
Cio-Cio San - Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano); Pinkerton - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Sharpless - Hermann Prey (baritone); Goro - Hans Günter (tenor); Suzuki - Sieglinde Wagner (mezzo); RIAS-Kammerchor; Orchestra of the Deutschen Oper Berlin/Giuseppe Patanè
recorded in Berlin in 1966
CD 5
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1856) Der Postillion von Lonjumeau (Le postillion de Lonjumeau) [43:04]
Chapelou - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Madeleine - Ruth-Margaret Pütz (soprano); Bijou - Franz Crass (bass); Marquis von Corcy - Franz Klarwein (tenor); Chorus and Orchestra of the Bavarian State Opera/Fritz Lehan
recorded in Munich in 1965
CD 6
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880) Hoffmanns Erzählungen (Les contes d’Hoffmann) [60:11] [also includes other instrumental and vocal items by Offenbach]
Hoffmann - Rudolf Schock (tenor); Olympia/Giulietta/Antonia - Rita Streich (soprano); Dapertutto/Dr Miracle - Josef Metternich (baritone); Niklausse - Sieglinde Wagner (mezzo); Berlin State Opera Chorus; Berlin Symphony Orchestra/Wilhelm Schüchter
recorded in Berlin in 1954
CD 7
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Margarethe (Faust) [69:32]
Faust - Nicolai Gedda (tenor); Mephistophes - Kurt Moll (bass); Valentine - Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Margarethe - Edda Moser (soprano); Siebel - Ursula Groenwold (mezzo); RIAS Kammerchor; Berlin Radio-Symphony Orchestra/Giuseppe Patanè
recorded in Berlin in 1973

Will appeal largely to German-speaking collectors but there is much here for the curious with an interest in these singers as well as providing ample food for thought on the vexed question of opera in the vernacular. 

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