Notes and Editorial Reviews
Georges Prêtre, cond; Lisa Della Casa (
); Waldemar Kmentt (
); Walter Berry (
); Robert Kerns (
); Otto Wiener (
); Christa Ludwig (
); Peter Klein (
); Fritz Wunderlich (
); Lucia Popp (
); Vienna St Op O
ORFEO 734082, mono (2 CDs: 130:22) Live: Vienna 3/21/1964
Della Casa, Kmentt, Berry, Kerns, Wiener, Ludwig, Wunderlich, Popp, in the 1964 revival of Rudolf Hartmann’s restudied original production! Sounds unbelievable, but George Prêtre is the conductor. Are they kidding? With this cast and production, where were Böhm, Karajan, Solti, and Keilberth, among others? But wait.
is not an orchestra-driven opera, at least in the sense of
Salome, Elektra, Die Frau ohne Schatten
, or even
. Perhaps all it needs is a sympathetic and competent conductor to steady the ship and let Strauss and this excellent cast do their thing. Della Casa is arguably the Straussian soprano for the ages, and in his final opera Strauss perhaps created his most perfectly realized soprano role. That is certainly a controversial statement when you consider the Marschallin and Arabella, but it does accurately reflect the importance of the Countess, and especially her final scene. Della Casa’s Countess is the anchor for this remarkable cast that is nearly flawless as an ensemble and in each individual moment. Her final scene is indeed stunning. Any opportunity to document a recording of Fritz Wunderlich, no matter how small the role, must be treasured.
and does not require a transcendent Straussian orchestral conductor. It most certainly does require a knowledge and commitment to the music. In
, Strauss employs a fairly large orchestra with chamber-like transparency as it accompanies the singers. Prêtre nicely blends the orchestra with the vocal ensemble, but his “Moonlight Music” (the orchestral interlude preceding the Countess’s monologue) is almost matter-of-fact. Some of the effect is probably due to the mono sound. The singers have far more presence than the distantly positioned and dull sounding orchestra, but Prétre’s approach is so laid back that it is almost casual, and that doesn’t work with Strauss, even in this restrained, autumnal music. The orchestra plays a critical role in Strauss’s “Conversation Piece for Music,” as it does in his
Four Last Songs
. Concerning the opera itself, some may say that
represents more evidence of the decline of Strauss’s creative powers following
Die Frau ohne Schatten
. Others are totally charmed by the composer’s intellectual stimulation and remarkable restraint. It may seem strange to some that a composer would base his final opera on the relative importance of music and words (after all, even with the greatest librettists, you never hear of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s
or Arrigo Boito’s
addresses and crystallizes this important theoretical issue that concerned Strauss throughout his career. He turns it into a meaningful theatrical experience with a remarkable blending of words and music, concluding with the Countess’s sublime monologue. Strauss’s operatic farewell fittingly ends with a portrait of his ideal soprano.
s relative obscurity is emphasized by its relative lack of recordings. If modern sound is important (and for most listeners it will be, especially in the music of Strauss), Kiri Te Kanawa’s Decca recording with Brigitte Fassbaender as Clairon and the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Ulf Schirmer is solid but not particularly special. Te Kanawa has the required lush, creamy voice, but she cannot approach Della Casa. If sound is not important, this live mono recording is unsurpassed, especially because it provides the opportunity to hear Della Casa’s Countess. The question arises that if Decca was capable of making a fine stereo recording of the Della Casa/Solti
in 1958, why is this 1964 recording in mono? Today’s ruling Strauss soprano, Renée Fleming, has a notable DVD of a Paris Opera production, but has not yet made a complete audio CD. She has recorded the final scene with Christoph Eschenbach conducting the Vienna Philharmonic (Decca). The best of both worlds (music and sound) would be if these two eminent Straussians collaborated on a new complete recording.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen