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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 05
German television captures a gem
Arts & Entertainment
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German television captures a gem

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

FIDELIO
DEUTSCHE OPER BERLIN
ARTHAUS MUSIK DVD


At last an opera video I can recommend from the Fiftieth Anniversary boxed set of 1960s television broadcasts from Deutsche Oper Berlin! Three earlier reviews of discs from this set were not favorable. This slightly cut 1963 telecast version of Beethoven's Fidelio features an unbeatable cast of the finest singers of that period. Both musically and dramatically, this is fine fare.

Technically, the DVD is of course limited by its vintage TV production. The video is black and white, but it is clean of defects; and the camera angles are adequate. The aspect ratio is 4:3. Audio is mono but quite free of annoying distortion. Its most serious drawback is a frequency range that is so limited that the extraordinary richness of the voices of Christa Ludwig and James King is scarcely evident. The burnished bronze of buzzing overtones of King's tenor at the Met (1969) will never leave my memory, nor will the ease of his singing that high-flying role of Der Kaiser in Strauss' Die Frau Ohne Schatten. The audio of his Florestan on this disc shows his comfort with even the highest parts of the role, but his absolutely uniquely masculine sound is only hinted at here. Likewise the warmth of Ludwig's mezzo-soprano seldom comes across, nor does its power. In the same Frau mentioned above, the sheer size and warmth of her voice proved the exception to the rule that really big voices come only from big bodies.

Even so, this is a Fidelio well worth watching. The rest of the cast could hardly be better. Walter Berry (also stunning in the above-mentioned Frau) pours out unending streams of glorious baritone as the evil Don Pizarro. He matches the others in his fine acting. Lisa Otto charms with her effortless lyric soprano, and William Dooley, a sexy but less than adequate Iago in the Otello from this boxed set, is here quite wonderful as the benevolent Don Fernando. As the fatherly but conflicted Rocco, veteran bass Josef Greindl is a master, still able to handle the role's every demand. The production is minimal. Elderly Artur Rother, conductor in this same opera house through the 'Reich,' brings his experience to lead the Chorus and Orchestra of the Deutsche Opera Berlin with skill but no special passion. There is no traditional 'Leonore Overture No. 3' inserted before the second act. The camera work during the opening overture has nothing to do with the music, whereas modern videos almost always follow the score closely and focus on the instruments as each is featured in the music.

This appears to be a live performance before an audience that is shown only during the opening overture. Applause interrupts the show just once, after Ludwig's commanding solo, 'Abscheulicher.' There are, however, a couple of very brief moments when the lips are not quite in synch with the sound, perhaps indicating edit points to the TV presentation, which was broadcast on June 17, 1963, the tenth anniversary of the popular uprising in the GDR. Many opera lovers are less focused on the special sound and vocal technique of the singers than this reviewer. Some watch opera primarily for the drama as supported by the music. For them I would recommend this DVD without reservation. Even with my regrets about the limited sound, I found it a rewarding experience.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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