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Walter FELSENSTEIN Edition
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
Fidelio (1956)
Leoš JANÁČEK Das schlaue Füchslein (1965)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Don Giovanni (1966)
Giuseppe VERDI Othello (1969)
Jacques OFFENBACH Hoffmanns Erzählungen (1970)
Jacques OFFENBACH Ritter Blaubart (1973)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Die Hochzeit des Figaro (1975/76)
Full details at end of review
Special Features on DVDs:-
Original manuscripts of Walter Felsenstein
Original staging piano reductions with audio examples
Drafts of the stage design, figurines, sketches & drawings
Historical audio material with speeches & interviews with Walter Felsenstein
Rehearsal film “Don Giovanni” and newsreel footage “The Tales of Hoffmann”
Footage of Felsenstein stagings 1945-1961
Script excerpts, conceptual scripts & picture galleries
ARTHAUS 101345 [7 DVD set]


Experience Classicsonline

The pleasure and insight gained from the seven opera films of Walter Felsenstein, the legendary founder and Intendant of the Komische Opera Berlin from 1950 to 1976, differs from case to case. All films, restored and published in a box with additional, insightful video and audio material, are interesting documents of theater history. At the same time it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that stage productions (and their screen adaptations) can age a bit more quickly than do other forms of art.

Nevertheless, even sixty years after its making, Felsenstein's black and white, rather liberal adaptation of Fidelio — filmed outdoors, 'on location' — still impresses. His meddling with the script (his first spoken scene introduces Don Pizarro as the people's menace, for example) adds intensity and authenticity of feelings, if anything. It's the only among the films that wasn't connected to a staged version, and it was not made for the East-German Television Broadcasting Service, but in Vienna. The acceptable mono sound and picture quality (not too far from watching F.W. Murnau) doesn't get in the way at all, the spoken text — not particularly useful though that may be to a non-German speaking audience — is delivered in theater, not opera quality.

Verdi's Othello (in German, of course) works well, too, with its explicit depiction of a jealousy drama that necessarily ends in catastrophe. From 1969 and in color, it's a happy chimera of stage production and film, with the orchestra in good form under Kurt Masur. Hanns Nocker is, as in the 1963 production (filmed a decade later) of Blaubart (Offenbach's Barbe-bleue) the protagonist. Bluebeard, which was an unlikely, world-wide, success for the Komische Oper, ambles through several fussy scenes (that need to be understood as intentionally ironic to be appreciated—a predecessor of 'camp') before reaching the truly grand entrance of the title role in his wildly ostentatious renaissance costume. The other performers reward with equally quirky, impressively intensive, and sometimes over the top satirical scenes. Felsenstein takes the work seriously; a social critique veiled with much humor and parody. Hoffmanns Erzählungen (Offenbach's “Tales of Hoffmann”, 1970) similarly benefits from a fine adaptation for the screen that consoles for the few antiquated, if not musty, scenes.

Leoš Janáček's Das schlaue Füchslein (“The cunning little Vixen”) was a model-staging of Felsenstein and rightly lauded. Too bad that the 1956 black and white film version suffers from less than ideal sound and picture quality; Vaclav Neumann's conducting would come across better without the distortions. And yet, the enchanting poetry and perfectly bearable lightness of this performance—quite like Max Reinhart's 1938 Midsummernight's Dream—invariably casts its spell on the viewer. Thanks to the camera perspective and switching angles that negate our sense of proportions, the actors (kids) who play the insects look well-nigh realistic. And that was, after all, the conviction and maxim of Felsenstein which gave his style—romantic realism—its name. The whole thing reminds of Ladislas Starevich's L'horloge magique ou La petite fille qui volait être princesse, but with real people. Ideally suited to entertain old and young alike.

Don Giovanni and Figaro — the former from 1966, filmed in the theater, partially underexposed and characterized by the print's soggy black/white, the latter from 1976, made shortly after Felsenstein had died, filmed in color and splendid quality — ask for more patience of the viewer. Intense performances can't caché the pointedly aged aesthetic of these two operas; and even Germans are no longer comfortable listening to either in German instead of Italian. Subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish are provided throughout, including the Bonus material.

All seven films and the extensive additional material (watch it, where available, before the respective opera) contained on altogether 12 CDs, show the unbending will with which Felsenstein pursued theatrical truth. That was a rare, most fortunate occasion on the opera (or film-) stage then, and it remains so today.

Klaus J. Kalchschmid (and Jens F. Laurson) 



Opera In Two Acts
Libretto By Joseph Sonnleithner, Stephan von Breuning and Georg Friedrich Treitschke
based on the French text by Jean Nicolas Bouilly
Arrangement, text version and script by Walter Felsenstein and Hanns Eisler
Opera Feature Film (Black-And-White), 1956
Wiener Symphoniker · Wiener Staatsopernchor
Artistic Supervisor and Direction: Walter Felsenstein
Conductor: Fritz Lehmann
Chorus Master: Hermann Lüddecke
Director of Photography: Nicolaus Hayer
Sceneries and Costumes: Rochus Gliese, Leo Metzenbauer
Don Fernando: Erwin Gross, sung by Alfred Pöl
Pizarro: Hannes Schiel, sung by Heinz Rehfuß
Florestan: Richard Holm
Leonore/Fidelio: Claude Nollier, sung by Magda László, spoken by Grete Zimmer
Rocco: Georg Wieter, spoken by Wolfgang Hebenstreit
Marzelline: Sonja Schöner
Jaquino: Fritz Berger
Prisoners: Michael Tellering, sung by Kurt Equiluz and Harry Payer, sung by Leo Heppe



New German translation of Arrigo Boito's libretto by Walter Felsenstein, assisted by Carl Stueber
On behalf of Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), Licensed by Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA)
A film production of the stage version by Walter Felsenstein
Chorus of the Komische Oper Berlin · Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin
Script and Direction: Walter Felsenstein, Georg Mielke
Conductor: Kurt Masur
Camera: Otto Merz, Hans-Jürgen Reinecke
Set Design: Alfred Tolle, following the Set Design by Rudolf Heinrich
Costume Design: Helga Scherff
Othello: Hanns Nocker
Desdemona: Christa Noack
Iago: Vladimír Bauer
Emilia: Hanna Schmoock
Cassio: Hans-Otto Rogge
Rodrigo: Peter Seufert
Montano: Erich Blasberg
Lodovico: Herbert Rössler
Herold: Horst-Dieter Kaschel


Opéra Bouffe In Three Acts (4 Pictures)
New German adaptation by Walter Felsenstein and Horst Seeger based on the original score by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
Feature Film (Coloured), Produced In The Defa-Studio, Babelsberg 1973
On behalf of Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), Licensed by Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA)
A film production of the stage version by Walter Felsenstein
Script and Direction: Walter Felsenstein, Georg Mielke
Arrangement and Musical Direction: Karl-Fritz Voigtmann
Set Design: Paul Lehmann
Costume Design: Helga Scherff
Sire de Barbe-Bleue: Hanns Nocker
Boulotte: Anny Schlemm
King Bobèche: Werner Enders
Queen Clémentine: Ruth Schob-Lipka
Princess Hermia (Fleurette): Ingrid Czerny
Prince Saphir (Daphnis): Manfred Hopp
Popolani: Rudolf Asmus
Count Oscar: Helmut Polze
Alvarez: Hans-Otto Rogge
Isaure: Irmgard Arnold
Héloïse: Evelyn Bölicke
Eléonore: Eva-Maria Baum
Rosalinde: Christa Noack
Blanche: Ute Trekel-Burckhardt


New edition by Walter Felsenstein, using the same-named play by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré (1851)
On behalf of Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), Licensed by Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA)
A film production of the stage version by Walter Felsenstein
Chorus of the Komische Oper Berlin · Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin
Script and Direction: Walter Felsenstein, Georg Mielke
Arrangement and Musical Direction: Karl-Fritz Voigtmann
Set Design: Reinhart Zimmermann, following the Set Design by Rudolf Heinrich
Setting of the Studio: Paul Lehmann
Costume Design: Helga Scherff
Hoffmann: Hanns Nocker
Stella, Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta: Melitta Muszely
Lindorf, Coppélius, Doktor Mirakel, Kapitän Dapertutto: Rudolf Asmus
Andreas, Cochenille, Franz, Pitichinaccio: Werner Enders
Spalanzani: Vladimír Bauer
Crespel: Alfred Wroblewski
Schlemihl: Horst-Dieter Kaschel
Niklaus/Muse: Sylvia Kuziemski
Nathanael: Uwe Kreyssig
Lutter: Heinz Kögel


German translation by Walter Felsenstein, using the adaptation by Max Brod
Electronic recording (black-and-white) in the studio adlershof, 1965
On behalf of Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), Licensed by Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA)
Staging, Artistic Direction, Film Direction, and Script: Walter Felsenstein, Georg Mielke
Conductor: Václav Neumann
Set Design: Rudolf Heinrich, Herbert Michel
Costume Design: Rudolf Heinrich, Gundolf Foizik
The vixen: Irmgard Arnold
The fox: Manfred Hopp
The badger: Josef Burgwinkel
The dog: Werner Enders
The cock: Frank Volker
The hen: Christa Oehlmann
The dragonfly: Karin Vetter
The forester: Rudolf Asmus
The forest warden: Ruth Schob-Lipka
The schoolmaster: Werner Enders
The priest: Josef Burgwinkel
Harašta: Herbert Rössler
Terynka: Helga Naujo



Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte
German adaptation by Walter Felsenstein and Horst Seeger
On behalf of Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), Licensed by Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA)
Chorus of the Komische Oper Berlin · Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin
Conductor: Zdenek Košler
Stage Direction: Walter Felsenstein
TV Direction: Georg Mielke
Set Design: Reinhart Zimmermann
Costume Design: Sylta-Maria Busse
Chorus Master: Dieter Hänsel
Don Giovanni: György Melis
Donna Anna: Klara Barlow
Don Ottavio: John Moulson
Komtur: Herbert Rössler
Donna Elvira: Anny Schlemm
Leporello: Rudolf Asmus
Zerlina: Eva-Maria Baum
Masetto: Musikschwein Fritz “Baby” Hübner


Opera Buffa In Four Acts
Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, German adaptation by Walter Felsenstein
Recorded (coloured) at the komische oper, july 1976
On behalf of Deutscher Fernsehfunk (DFF), Licensed by Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv (DRA)
Chorus of the Komische Oper Berlin · Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin
Conductor: Geza Oberfrank
Stage Direction: Walter Felsenstein
TV Direction: Georg Mielke
Set Design: Reinhart Zimmermann
Costume Design: Eleonore Kleiber
Chorus Master: Gerhard Wüstner
Dance Production: Tom Schilling, Heinz Kretzschmann
Count Almaviva: Uwe Kreyssig
Countess Almaviva: Magdalena Falewicz
Susanna: Ursula Reinhardt-Kiss
Figaro: József Dene
Cherubino: Ute Trekel-Burckhardt
Doctor Bartolo: Rudolf Asmus
Marcellina: Ruth Schob-Lipka
Basilio: Frank Folkner
Don Curzio: Werner Enders
Antonio: Helmut Völker
Barbarina: Barbara Sternberger
Bridesmaids: Inge Haase, Annemarie Hoffmann 


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