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Gala Unter den Linden
Soloists of Staatsoper Berlin
Chor der Staatsoper Berlin,
Staatskapelle Berlin/Otmar Suitner, Siegfried Kurz, Heinz Fricke, Arthur Apelt
rec. 1986-87, Christuskirche, Berlin
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300925BC [54.30 + 48.09]

At first glance one might infer that this reissued and remastered double album is a recording of a live Gala concert by Staatsoper Berlin from Unter den Linden Opera House, Berlin. But it’s not! This is a collection of opera arias and choruses in a studio recording from Christuskirche, Berlin, which showcases members of the Staatsoper Berlin based at the opera house on Unter den Linden, Berlin. Originally the set was issued on vinyl in 1987 on Eterna, a German Democratic Republic label. Largely unfamiliar to me (except for Siegfried Lorenz, Peter Schreier and Theo Adam) the seventeen soloists are members of the opera company bolstered by the Chor der Staatsoper Berlin while the roster of conductors comprises Siegfried Kurz, Heinz Fricke, Arthur Apelt, and the notably celebrated maestro Otmar Suitner.

In February 1945 the home of the Staatsoper Berlin (Berlin State Opera) the Staatsoper Unter Den Linden (State Opera House on Unter Den Linden commonly known as Lindenoper) was bombed by Allied aircraft for a second time and destroyed. Berlin lay in ruins and as the Lindenoper was located in the Eastern sector it came under Soviet control. Soviet Major General Nikolai Berzarin, the first military governor of Berlin ordered that performances were to be immediately resumed. The concerts and opera productions of what was in effect the State Opera Company of East Berlin were relocated to Admiralspalast theatre nearby and also the Schauspielhaus (now known as Konzerthaus). Initially only around a dozen of the former ensemble had returned and suitable conductors were also required, so vital appeals went out on the radio.

With the go-ahead given by the Soviet Authorities, reconstruction work at Lindenoper commenced in June 1952. When rebuilding of the opera house was finally completed the rejuvenated opera company, now named the Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin, moved back to its original Lindenoper home, opening in September 1955 with Die Meistersinger conducted by Franz Konwitschny. Soon the artistic reputation of the Staatsoper Berlin returned to prominence in the city. The building of the Berlin Wall in 1961 placed the opera company in an insecure state, however, as most of the company members lived in West Berlin and chose to return there. With the opera company personnel again vastly depleted college graduates from the east were drafted in to swell the ranks of singers and orchestral players. A masterstroke occurred in 1964 when Otmar Suitner was brought in from Dresden (another prominent East German city). Suitner managed to raise the level of performance to an acceptable and increasing standard of artistry and was successful in staging celebrated productions of Die Frau ohne Schatten, Parsifal and Palestrina, and once again began making recordings. By the time of this recording the Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin had developed its repertoire to a very reputable level, as evidenced by the performances here in 1987 as part of the festivities marking the 750th anniversary of Berlin’s foundation. This Eterna reissue splendidly demonstrates the artistic prowess of the Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin, making a valuable record of the period in 1986-87.

Six Austro/German composers have been selected for this opera collection, namely Mozart, Beethoven, Weber, Wagner, Nikolai and Richard Strauss; the latter two were former general music directors at the Berlin company. All of the arias and choruses have German libretti with the exception of the pair of arias from Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which are given here in the original Italian. As was the custom of the day in the house the pair of arias from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (here entitled Die Hochzeit des Figaro), written to an original Italian libretto is sung in German.

Across the twenty one tracks the standard of performance is remarkably high. Occasionally some very slight unevenness in voice production is evident from one or two soloists but this is nothing to worry about at all, given the gratifying overall quality of the collection. There are several arias that make a significant impression and are my personal highlights. Standing out is Fernando’s act one aria ‘Un aura amorosa del nostro tesoro’ from Così fan tutte; a tenor then in his prime, Peter Schreier, a Mozart specialist, excels as the young soldier expressing how his heart is nourished on the desire of love, singing tenderly and displaying his sweet, delightful tone. From Der Freischütz is the rather wistful act three cavatina ‘Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle’ with Agathe on her wedding day praying to heaven for protection from her dream. Enchantingly rendered by Magdaléna Hajóssová, the soprano’s seductive and flexible tone is especially memorable, with a projection that is surprisingly weighty. The icing on the cake comes in the form of the engagingly played solo from principal cello Matthias Pfaender.

Siegfried Lorenz is a baritone I know primarily for his stunning 1987 Dresden collection of Schubert Lieder an eight CD box set on Berlin Classics (review). Performed by Lorenz, from Tannhäuser, is Wolfram’s celebrated act three aria ‘O du, mein holder Abendstern’, his Hymn to the Evening Star. As darkness descends Wolfram, with his prayer, altruistically consents to Elisabeth’s decision to die. What is striking here in the knight’s rather Italianate ode is Lorenz’s remarkable voice control and the enthralling sense of expression and internal balance between the melodious quality and the gravity of the situation. Probably the finest performance of all comes from Theo Adam, in Hans Sachs’ expansive act two monologue, sometimes called the ‘Fliedermonolog’, ‘Was duftet doch der Flieder so mild’ from Die Meistersinger. Recorded when just in his sixties it is clear that Adam’s voice was in peak condition. In the wide range of emotions of the monologue what stands out here is the bass-baritone’s unforced sound production and steadiness, together with his warm yet dark timbre.

Also quite ravishing is ‘Hab mir’s gelobt’ the famous trio that concludes act three of Der Rosenkavalier sung by the love triangle members Sophie, the Marschallin and Octavian. This emotional highpoint of the opera, performed by sopranos Celestina Casapietra, Margot Stejskal and mezzo-soprano Ute Trekel-Burckhardt has affecting expression, with the voices combining together sublimely. Praise is due to the Chor der Staatsoper Berlin, which is in sterling form throughout. Its contributions sound especially lusty in the ‘Jägerchor’ (Huntsman’s Chorus) from act three of Der Freischütz. Impressive in the opening section of the chorus is the sound of the horn quartet evoking hunting horns deep in the fabled Bohemian forest. As I expected the Staatskapelle Berlin provides remarkably accomplished playing uniformly under the control of the four conductors utilised Suitner, Kurz, Fricke and Apelt.

Berlin Classics have digitally remastered the original analogue Eterna tapes making these recordings available for the first time on CD. From the Christuskirche the preferred studio location in the East of Berlin the sound quality is excellent having satisfying presence and clarity with a pleasing balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra. The release is attractively presented in a hard paper gatefold sleeve with reproductions of the origin album covers, which shows a front view of the Lindenoper. In the booklet is an interesting and revealing essay by Klaus Thiel about the development of the Staatsoper Berlin, concentrating on the post Second World War period when the city was divided between East and West. Brief commentaries on the featured soloists complete the liner notes.

Despite previously being familiar with the work of only three of the group of soloists the album Gala Unter den Linden is a veritable treat and emphatically worthy of praise.

Michael Cookson

Track listing:
CD1 [54.30]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Die Hochzeit des Figaro, K492:
1. Overture [4.01]
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
2. Ach, ich weiß ja nicht mehr (Act 1. Arie des Cheribino) [2.51]
Uta Priew (mezzo-soprano)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
3. Nun vergiss leises Flehn, süßes Kosen (Act 1. Arie des Figaro) [3.47]
Jürgen Freier (baritone)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
Die Zauberflöte, K. 620:
4. Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Act 2. Arie der Königin der Nacht) [3.03]
Isabella Nawe (soprano)
Arthur Apelt (conductor)
5. In diesen heil'gen Hallen (Act 2. Arie des Sarastro) [3.54]
Fritz Hübner (bass)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
Così fan tutte, K. 588
6. Un aura amorosa del nostro tesoro (Act 1. Arie des Fernando) [4.41]
Peter Schreier (tenor)
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
7. Non v'e piu tempo, amici; Di scrivermi ogni giorno (Act 1. Rezitativ und Quintet mit chor, Fiordiligi, Dorabella, Guglielmo, Ferrando, Don Alfonso) [3.06]
Celestina Casapietra (soprano), Annelies Burmeister (alto), Peter Schreier (tenor), Günther Leib (baritone), Theo Adam (bass-baritone), Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio, Op. 72
8. O welche Lust, in freier Luft den Atem leicht zu heben! (Act 1. Gefangenenchor - Prisoners' Chorus) [6.52]
Peter Bindszus (tenor), Bernd Riedel (baritone), Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
9. Ha, welch ein Augenblick (Act 1. Arie des Pizarro mit Chor) [3.14]
Ekkehard Wlaschiha (bass-baritone), Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Der Freischütz
10. Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle (Act 3. Cavatina der Agathe) [5.05]
Magdaléna Hajóssová (soprano), Matthias Pfaender (cello solo)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
11. Was gleicht wohl auf Erden dem Jägervergnügen (Act 3. Jägerchor
Huntsmen's Chorus) [2.38]
Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
Otto NICOLAI (1810-1849)
Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor
12. Wohl denn, gefaßt ist der Entschluß (Act 3. Arie des Anna) [7.24]
Carola Nossek (soprano)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
13. O süßer Mond (Mondchor - Moon Choir) [3.48]
Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
Staatskapelle Berlin
CD 2 [48.09]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
1. Dich, teure Halle, grüss ich wieder (Act 3. Arie der Elisabeth) [3.22]
Celestina Casapietra (soprano)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
2. Wie Todesahnung...O du, mein holder Abendstern (Szene des Wolfram) [5.05]
Siegfried Lorenz (tenor)
Heinz Fricke (conductor)
3. In fernem Land (Act 3. Gralserzählung des Lohengrin - Lohengrin’s Grail narration) [5.07]
Eberhard Buchner (tenor)
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
Die Walküre
4. Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond (Act 1. Szene des Siegmund) [3.05]
Reiner Goldberg (tenor)
Siegfried Kurz (conductor)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
5. Was duftet doch der Flieder so mild (Act 2. Monolog des Hans Sachs) [6.21]
Theo Adam (bass-baritone)
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
6. Wach' auf! Es nahet gen dem Tag (Act 3. Chor) [2.02]
Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Der Rosenkavalier
7. Da lieg ich (Act 2, Finale, Szene des Ochs) [11.11]
Annelies Burmeister (alto), Siegfried Vogel (bass)
Chor der Staatsoper Berlin
Otmar Suitner (conductor)
8. Marie Theres'! ... Hab mir's gelobt... Ist ein Traum, kann nicht wirklich sein (Act 3. Terzett Sophie, Marschallin & Octavian, Sophie & Octavian und duet Sophie & Octavian ) [11.34]
Celestina Casapietra (soprano), Margot Stejskal (soprano), Ute Trekel-Burckhardt (mezzo-soprano), Rolf Haunstein (baritone)
Siegfried Kurz (conductor)
Staatskapelle Berlin



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