EMI is currently issuing large portions of the Electrola
back-catalogue, not least many operas of the Biedermeier era including
Flotow, Nicolai and Lortzing and the legendary operetta recordings of the
1960s and 1970s. Singers like Anneliese Rothenberger, Rita Streich, Nicolai
Gedda, Hermann Prey frequently took part and among conductors the veteran
Robert Heger and the then young Heinz Wallberg were prominent. I have
already invested in several of these, many of them good old friends from the
LP era that now get a new lease of life in digital shape. There have also
been some non-German operas and the custom then in German houses was to sing
them in German, whatever the original language. So was the case with Les
, in the same series, which my colleague John
Sheppard recently reviewed here
. That was a rather late set, recorded in 1979.
was originally issued in 1962 but the recorded
sound is excellent, rather closely balanced but still atmospheric. The
orchestra plays splendidly under Horst Stein, who was a fine opera conductor
and chooses sensible tempos. The chorus of the Deutsche Oper sings well and
in the changing of the guard the Schöneberger Sängerknaben are
charming street urchins. Let me also mention that there is no spoken
dialogue but Guiraud’s recitatives are used.
So far so good, then but the language? Was it really a good idea to
record it in German? Firstly these recordings were made with the
German-speaking public in mind and 30-50 years ago this was a very important
market. Secondly an all-German cast singing in the vernacular is likely to
make the most of the text. It may take some time for non-German listeners to
get used to the different sounds and it is an advantage to know the opera
fairly well and, preferably, have some familiarity with German. It is also
true that a language so rich with consonants and Ach-lauts can sound clumsy.
Morales, for instance, the first solo voice we hear, has an excellent voice
but the language still makes his reading four-square. Other comprimario
singers are much better in that respect, Mercédès and
Frasquita are fine and the young Ivan Rebroff - he had just turned 30 when
the recording was made - is a stylish Zuniga. This was before his
international breakthrough as a popular artist.
Carmen herself is Christa Ludwig and she is absolutely stunning. The
is as seductive as anybody else’s, her mocking
laughter afterwards is theatrical but in style. The Seguidilla
light and airy and conversational. She is superb, vocally and dramatically
in the long second act duet scene with Don José, doom-laden in the
card scene in act III and magnificent in the finale.
Rudolf Schock may have been a good Don José some ten years
earlier, and he acts convincingly, but his voice here is dry and charmless.
He is at his best in the Flower song,
tender initially and careful
over nuances. He ends the aria softly.
Hermann Prey on the other hand has charm in abundance and his
Escamillo is excellent. He has the required low notes that elude so many
baritones and boasts all the virility of a true toreador as well as glowing
Maybe the great surprise for many will be the Micaëla of
Melitta Muszely. She was an important coloratura soprano, for many years
belonging to the ensemble at the Hamburg State Opera. She also guested in
Vienna, Berlin, Zürich and also internationally in Paris, Venice,
Lisbon and Edinburgh. She excelled as a Richard Strauss heroine. I suspect
though that for the non-German, record-buying public she was primarily an
operetta singer, often partnering Fritz Wunderlich. She sings with such
enticing beauty in the duet with Don José in act I that one totally
forgets that it is the ‘wrong’ language. Her aria in act III is
one of the very best things on this recording, again beauty and feeling
Though hardly a first choice for anyone, except Germans who want
in the vernacular, this is an enjoyable set in many respects
and admirers of Christa Ludwig should contemplate a purchase.