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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Hard on the heels of Leon Botstein’s new recording of the complete 1928 edition of Strauss’s
Die ägyptische Helena
comes this new issue of the famous 1956 performance under Keilberth. This must have been one of the first productions of the opera after the war, and it came only some seven years after the death of the composer. It is a tremendous performance. While in mono and obviously not comparable to the range of Telarc’s (80605) digital recording, it is, in fact, better balanced, and the advantage of an experienced opera conductor at the helm is incalculable. Keilberth is generally underrated as
an opera conductor. When he is in form, as here, he is remarkable. He is a much more theatrical interpreter than Botstein, and in one respect he is Botstein’s definite superior technically. Menelas has some of the most fearsomely ungrateful music in all of opera to sing, generally singing close to flat out against the vast orchestra. Still he must dominate his scenes the way Tristan or Siegfried dominate theirs if the opera is to work dramatically. Without ever making it seem as if he is holding the orchestra down, Keilberth succeeds in keeping the orchestra out of Bernd Aldenhoff’s way, allowing him to ride the orchestra as, undoubtedly, Strauss intended. Keilberth takes tempos comparable to Botstein, which means the opera is never rushed off its feet, but unlike Botstein, he is always careful to never cover his singers with his surging orchestra. Moreover, his tempos give his superb cast time to articulate their exceedingly difficult music, something that was a bit of a problem on the otherwise fine Dynamic recording of the opera.
Bernd Aldenhoff is a true tenor, with none of the baritonal coloration common to dramatic tenors. The resulting brightness of timbre aids him in cutting through the heavy orchestra. He is consistently more audible in the recorded mix and consequently makes much more of the character than Botstein’s Tanner. His phrasing is more eloquent than Tanner’s, although both singers run into slight problems at the bottom of the extended range asked for by Strauss. If one ignores a tendency to slip into
to convey madness, his take on Menelas is one of the best available.
Leonie Rysanek is heard here at the near beginning of her long career. She both confirms her reputation and enhances it some. A creature of the theater, her commercial recordings are not extensive, so each example from her surprisingly vast repertoire is to be savored. Always a little slow to warm up, at the beginning her tone is a mite hollow and wobbly, but by her first extended monologue she is as radiant and committed as anyone could wish. By the second act, which opens with the most famous excerpt from the opera, she is simply incomparable, and it is the only place where the otherwise reasonably quiet audience interrupts the proceedings with applause. Needless to say, Keilberth does not stop but forges ahead, in effect silencing what is, in a through-composed work, inappropriate applause. Only Deborah Voigt’s even more silvery Helena is really in the running here. Anneliese Kupper is a darker, larger-voiced Aithra than has since become the norm (Strauss specified a
—essentially the same voice that sings Sieglinde) but the voice moves splendidly through the coloratura writing. Oddly enough, the best recordings of the opera consistently cast Helena and Aithra with very similar voices. Ira Malaniuk has a rich deep contralto, but here the mono recording of nearly half a century ago is not entirely successful in capturing her offstage utterances clearly. Richard Holm is not the last word in tenor lushness as the doomed Da-ud (a part that could have been written for Wunderlich), sounding over-parted. Hermann Uhde is a magnificent Altair.
The recording has surprisingly wide frequency range and, aside from a great deal of clomping about in crowd scenes, the mono sound is entirely acceptable. Keilberth opts for the revision, which is in truth not a big deal one way or the other. No libretto is included. If you own the Botstein recording, then you need this one, too. Not to be missed.
-- John Story, Fanfare [3/2004]
Reviewing earlier release of this recording, Opera D'Oro 1381
Works on This Recording
Die ägyptische Helena, Op. 75 by Richard Strauss
Annelies Kupper (Soprano),
Hermann Uhde (Baritone),
Leonie Rysanek (Soprano),
Ira Malaniuk (Mezzo Soprano),
Bernd Aldenhoff (Tenor)
Bavarian State Opera Orchestra,
Bavarian State Opera Chorus
Written: 1923-1927; Germany
Date of Recording: 08/10/1956
Venue: Live Monaco
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
A classic October 9, 2013
By Rory R. (Winnipeg, MB) See All My Reviews
"Not an opera for all tastes, perhaps not even Strauss fans, but this riveting performance may convince even the doubters. Who cares if there are any weaknessesin the cast when you have Rysanek and Keilberth making every moment count? Classic beyond doubt."