'Figaro' with a Sensational Cast, but Sung in German
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/26/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This DVD of 'Die Hochzeit des Figaro' was filmed in 1967 and not only was one of the early films of a complete opera, it is also one of the very first filmed in color. It comes from the Hamburg State Opera, then under the artistic direction of Rolf Liebermann, and the cast is taken entirely from the company's resident singers. Most of the singers went on to international careers and at this point they are young, vigorous, musically impeccable and entirely believable in their roles. They all look the part as well, a definite plus for a film of an opera. The original film was restored recently and although there are a few points where either video or sound less than ideal, overall it makes a good visual and aural impact. The conductor is Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, a veteran conductor long associated with this company; he is one of the group of German conductors who came of age in the Hitler era and who made many recordings that were very well-considered in their day.
As for the singers, they are actually a dream cast with a young Edith Mathis as Susanna, the Americans Heinz Blankenburg and Arlene Saunders as Figaro and the Countess, the Finnish baritone Tom Krause as the Count. Elisabeth Steiner makes a fine Cherubino, and Noël Mangin a very acceptable Bartolo. Blankenburg's Figaro is both masculine and sexy and he uses his light baritone expertly. Tom Krause's rich baritone is perfect for the Count and his stage presence is such that one can understand why the Count had such luck with the ladies. Edith Mathis's pure soprano matches her pert looks. Arlene Saunders, who later sang heavier roles, sings a a particularly beautiful 'Porgi amor' (here 'Hör' mein Flehen') at the beginning of Act II. Steiner's Cherubino is both impetuous and dashing, and her singing is excellent. The ensemble scenes are done skillfully. The denouement in Act IV is particularly fine.
I loved this production, of course making allowances for the age of the production and that it is sung in German. Both of those factors will undoubtedly eliminate it from consideration by many, but musically it is definitely worth its asking price.
Old and worthy
J Scott Morrison | 11/04/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have this odd belief that the cadence and rhythm of a language is reflected in its music. Mozart is German. His musical structures are Germanic. Years ago I bought the vinyl records of this German production, and getting over the strangeness of hearing familiar Italian words spat out I came to prefer it. To my ears, the words and music were a perfect match. (I have Italian versions of this opera and am able to toggle beween the two.) Don't judge this opera by today's standards. It's been done to death and the market is saturated with stodgy "classic" settings and staid, boring singers. Used to the sound only, I bought this DVD with tredipation. The colors have been "restored," an ominous sign. But remembering its place in time, this production is a classic. The singing is superb. The two leading roles are perfectly matched. Krause is magnificent: a thoughtful, intelligent actor, his personality shines through. I've never seen a more delicious Susanna. The rest of the cast, with the exception of a wooden Count, meshes right in. And this is where you give thanks for the director! However good the singers are, they have to follow the director's overall concept. Attempts modernize this opera to me fall flat - even when they're by highly regarded men some cut above eurotrash. I object not for prudish reasons but because the integrity of the opera is broached, characters are made to behave in unauthentic fashion. Mozart's age was one of nuance and suggestion not blatant in-your-face sexuality and therein lay the tease. There are plenty of ways of modernizing productions without changing intent. If you want opera that reflects today's mores, there's plenty of good stuff to choose from. This is Mozart, and he ain't around today!
SO: dated as the production may be, the singing is timeless. If you find the scenery ho-hum and maybe even claustrophobic, remember again the time of the production, and enjoy a great performance. If you haven't seen this opera, this is a good introduction to it, if you have a collection, this will prove a worthy addition."