WEBER: Der Freischütz
LORTZING: Zar und Zimmermann
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger
In the late '60's and early '70's, the Hamburg State Opera and their artistic director, Rolf Liebermann, made 13 television films of operas using some of the finest singers of the time, all original productions from the Hamburg Opera. Here are three of them and they are uniformly of interest to operaphiles. Although stereo was well established by that time, these are monophonic recordings, but voices are nicely balanced with chorus and orchestra, the sound quality excellent. The films are in color and some restoration had to be done, but I doubt many viewers will be disappointed with visual elements. With sometimes elaborate and imaginative staging, it was necessary to film the production first, then make the recording, but this has been very professionally accomplished throughout with very few instances of lip-sync mishaps.
Leopold Ludwig, music director of the Hamburg Opera from 1951-1970, conducts Freischutz and Meistersinger. The former has a sterling cast headed by Gottlob Frick as Kaspar, Ernst Kozub as Max, and American soprano Arlene Saunders as Agathe. Meistersinger has three Americans in leading roles: Giorgio Tozzi as Sachs, Richard Cassilluy as Walther, and Arlene Saunders as Eva. Lortzing's comic opera Zar und Zimmermann about Tsar Peter of Russia masquerading as a shipyard worker was a great hit at its premiere in 1837. Today's audiences probably would find it a bit of a bore, but if you're interested in hearing it, here's your opportunity, highlighted by Lucia Popp's exquisite singing as Marie, niece of the pompous mayor.
Other operas recorded in Hamburg include Marriage of Figaro, Fidelio and Elektra. Let us hope these, too, will be issued.
R.E.B. (March 2007)