Fascinating Documentaries of Tenors from the 'Shellac Era'
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 08/25/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD was released as a VHS tape around eight years or so ago, but I did not see it then. It features separate thirty-minute segments, made for European television, on six great tenors of the 78rpm era: Lauritz Melchior, Helge Rosvaenge, Jussi Björling, John McCormack, Georges Thill and Ivan Kozlovsky. There is also some extended footage (in the Rosvaenge segment) of Max Lorenz. All great singers, all coming of age just as recording and sound film was gaining popularity, each singer has his own segment featuring much film footage, often played while their sound recordings act as underscoring. There is much talk with elderly folks who knew and worked with them -- some of them have widows that were still alive when these documentaries were made -- and discussions by various experts in the art of singing, most important of which -- and most valuable of which -- those by the voice maven Jürgen Kesting, who also wrote the booklet notes. Among the other experts are John B. Steane and the irritating but knowledgeable Stefan Zucker. (There is, in the extra segment [about which more below] a hilariously awful video clip of him demonstrating in his peculiarly ugly voice an aria from a bel canto opera.]
This is not a film for people who want simply to hear these great singers exercising their art. It is, rather, a documentary that mixes biography with discussions of vocal technique. Fascinating as that is, it is sometimes frustrating to have the singing submerged or interrupted so that we can hear old friends chat about the singer in question. I might have preferred more singing and less talk, except from Herr Kesting, whose demonstrations via recordings of the abilities of the singers is most instructive.
There is a seventh segment called, for some strange reason, 'The Singing Robot' about the phenomenon of recording, that includes much about Fernando de Lucia, a singer from a previous generation who is considered one of the greatest carriers of the bel canto tradition and whose singing had an effect of many of the singers presented here. Herr Kesting points out these influences as we go along. There is a risible section featuring a German philosopher explaining, presumably, the psychology of recordings; it is an example of the worst sort of academic twaddle but is mercifully short.
This is the second volume of a series called 'Belcanto: Singers of the 78 Era.' And like its predecessor, it is lovingly assembled and for those of us who are fascinated by singers of a bygone age, well-night indispensable.
"TOOOOOO!MUCH TALK....FROM SO CALLED? PEOPLE WHO "KNOW"...? I DON'T THINK SO.....SOME OF THE PEOPLE LOOK LIKE THEY ARE NOT ALL THERE...AND ARE VERY ANNOYING..ONE OF THEM EVEN TRIES TO SING, HIS NAME IS STEFAN ZUCKER HE SOUNDS LIKE A(DYING CAT)AND HE HAS THE NERVE TO TALK ABOUT..CARUSO,GIGLI ,SCHIPA,McCORMACK.....I DON'T THINK SO...!! ...THEY SHOULD STOP THE BULL TALK AND PLAY MORE OF THE MOVIE..IF I NEW THEN WHAT I KNOW NOW..I WOULD NOT HAVE BOUGHT THE DVD'S....SAVE YOUR MONEY...BOB"
Rich Colton | New Jersey | 09/07/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)
"This could have been a great DVD, if we were a permitted to hear the singers do an entire song. Instead we were forced to listen to people who have no clue about singing. One of these "experts" claims to be a singer, Stefan Zucker. He told us that McCormick signs without emotion, but could bring a tear to your eye. Is that really possible? Yes!! When Mr. Zucker sang for us; he did so without emotion, and he did bring a tear to my eye. I fact, I laughed so hard it brought tears to my eyes. Which one of his EXPERTS ever told him, he had a good voice?? It is painfull just listening to him speak, and the singing is even worse."
Misrepresented by the engineering
Stefan Zucker | 07/10/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The VHS version of the Tenors of the 78 Era reproduces my singing voice nicely. But the engineering of the DVD version de-balls it."
Doc Holliday | Great Northwest | 10/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Seeing and listening to the Tenors of the past and their contributions to Bel Canto was worth the price of admission. Critics abound everywhere, both in print, academia and in the audience. However, if you have a favorite tenor or two, (in my case, Bjorling & McCormack), this is an opportunity to learn more about the history and development of Bel Canto and famous tenors. I thoroughly enjoyed the comments and analysis of Jürgen Kesting, throughout Part One and Part Two. Stefan Zucker has received much criticism during his career, no doubt, more for his singing affect and personality, than his actual music acumen. However, if you can keep and open mind, or in this case, an open ear..., enjoy."