Beautiful Production of a Marvelous German Comic Opera
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Albert Lortzing's 'Zar and Zimmermann', written in 1837, is a marvelously constructed comedy of mistaken identities which rises above the usual farcical conventions and provides not only a satisfying plot but some excellent musical characterizations of what otherwise might have been stereotyped roles. In it Czar Peter the Great is working in the shipyards of Saardam (as he actually did in order to learn the shipbuilding trade) under the pseudonym of Peter Michaelov. Another Russian is also working there and also named Peter (Ivanov). Various international intriguers confuse their respective identities and comedy ensues. There are the usual stock characters: a beautiful lass, Marie, daughter of the comic burgermeister Van Bett, the foppish French ambassador, various rough and tumble village characters, a worldly widow and so on. Peter Ivanov is in love with Marie and through various machinations is finally united with her. Through it all Peter the Great acts with great wisdom and humanity, a sort of Hans Sachs of the piece. (In fact, Wagner was much influenced musically and dramatically by Lortzing.)
'Zar und Zimmermann' is not terribly well-known outside German-speaking countries. I was introduced to it thirty-five years ago by a Austrian couple who led me to the classic recording featuring Nicolai Gedda, Hermann Prey, Peter Schreier, Gottlob Frick and Erika Koth, conducted by Robert Heger. It immediately became a favorite.
I am happy to say that this film, made from a Hamburg State Opera mounting in the 1960s during the spell when Rolf Liebermann was making pioneering video opera productions for German television, meets all one's expectations. Musically it is above reproach. The cast is starry, including as it does Hans Sotin as Van Bett, Raymond Wolansky as Peter Michaelov, Lucia Popp as Marie, Horst Wilhelm as the French ambassador, and Ursula Boese as the Widow Browe. Conductor, and a marvelous feel he has for this piece, is the redoubtable Charles Mackerras.
Probably the most familiar number from this comic opera is the French ambassador's 'Lebe wohl, mein fland'risch Mädchen' sung here with tender lyricism by Wilhelm. Van Bett's comic 'Sancta justitia' amuses with its clever interplay of the bass voice and an orchestral bassoon. The sophistication of the Act II finale is, in my opinion, almost at a level of finales by Mozart; high praise indeed.
The production is traditional with colorful Dutch costumes and sets and straightforward stage direction by Joachim Hess. Although recorded in a television studio, it has the feel of a stage production but with more than the usual number of close-ups and moving camera shots. Sound is fine for its time and the video is also excellent especially if one considers that this was an early color TV production.
TT=131 mins. Sound: Mono. Subtitles in English, German, Italian, Spanish. DVD 9 (all regions).
V. Stasov | 12/15/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Not a great work, Zar und Zimmermann is nonetheless an entertaining opera. In the hands of Rolf Liebermann, it's actually a delight. The young and nubile Lucia Popp is, as always, marvelous. It's possible this is the earliest footage of her we have. All the singing is quite good.
The highlight of the entire production is the hilarious choral directing scene. If you have ever sung in a choir, you'll be in stitches. The usually somber Hans Sotin is in wonderful voice and is very funny as the simpleton mayor-cum-choral director. This famous scene is outstanding - the chorus acts and sings extremely well. But it's Hans Sotin who makes the entire performance memorable with his satirical and exaggerated spoof of the archetypal choir director. I watched that one scene many times over and for that alone this DVD was a good investment. It's rare to find an opera on DVD that can actually make me laugh, but this one did!"
Little known opera
David L. Myers | 05/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"A very good production of an opera not well known outside Germany. You will probably never see this opera in a live production so take the oportunity to view this well sung and well filmed "movie" version."