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Ghost Canyon

Title - 'Oper auf Deutsch' [15 CD Box-Set]
Artist - Various

Simply put, this masterful 15 CD Box-Set is a real, genuine treasure trove for opera lovers and tells the astonishing story of an era when all the many municipal opera houses in the German-speaking world performed the standard repertoire from Bizet to Verdi in the local language only.

Indeed, artists like Fritz Wunderlich had to relearn their roles when they performed on the international stage. Later, it was Karajan who broke with tradition and insisted that operas should be performed in their original language.

Ergo, Oper Auf Deutsch (out now via, of course, Deutsche Grammophon), contains all of the repertoire over 15 CDs - which are also available digitally – including 9 of the 15 albums for the first time ever!

Previously German record companies have released a number of operas sung in German, often as highlights, as the international market for complete recordings in the original language was too small for the budgets required, but this is the very first time that the complete repertoire has been brought together within one masterfully curated collection.

CD1: *Bizet: Carmen – Highlights
CD2: *D’Albert: Tiefland – Highlights
CD3: *Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana / *Leoncavallo: Der Bajazzo – Highlights
CD4: Lortzing: Zar Und Zimmermann – Highlights
CD5: Mozart: Die Hochzeit Des Figaro, K. 492 – Highlights
CD6: *Offenbach: Hoffmanns Erzählungen – Highlights
CD7: Puccini: La Bohème – Highlights
CD8: *Rossini: Der Barbier Von Sevilla – Highlights
CD9: Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Op.24 – Highlights
CD10: *Thomas: Mignon – Highlights
CD11: *Verdi: Aida – Highlights
CD12: *Verdi: Die Macht Des Schicksals – Highlights
CD13: Verdi: La Traviata – Highlights
CD14: Verdi: Nabucco – Highlights
CD15: *Verdi: Rigoletto – Highlights

* First digital release

The fifteen operatic highlights, sung in German, that are included in Oper Auf Deutsch were all created via major studio productions of the 1960s.

The casts are exceptional and feature the greatest voices of the period, even in minor roles, including Fritz Wunderlich, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Brigitte Fassbaender, Ernst Haefliger, Irmgard Seefried, Rita Streich, Sándor Kónya, Ingeborg Hallstein, Hans Hotter, Inge Borkh, Franz Crass, Gisela Vivarelli, Martti Talvela and many more.

The collection includes the first CD release of Carmen featuring Gisela Litz, Ernst Kozub, Franz Crass, Badische Staatskapelle and Marcel Couraud.

Not that I can bestow endless written praise on all these 15 titles (well, I guess I could, but it would be the longest CD review in history!), so what I'll do instead is pick out some of my own highlights.

First up, quite literally, is Bizet: Carmen featuring Gisela Litz and company and my oh my what an incredible, heart poundingly invigorating work it truly is.

Trained in Hamburg, following her studies, Gisela Litz began her stage career at the Staatstheater of Wiesbaden. In 1952 she came to the Staatsoper of Hamburg, at which she had a long, successful career.

She appeared there, among other things, in March 1954 in the premiere of the opera Die Heirat by B. Martinù. She achieved great successes with appearances in Munich, Rome, Lisbon, Brussels and Buenos Aires.

On the evening of the 31st performance of Carmen, Bizet died of a heart attack brought on by a throat affliction (probably cancer). He was 36.

Carmen rapidly grew in popularity. Had Bizet lived another few months he would have experienced its total triumph; another three years and he would have seen it produced in almost every major opera house in Europe.

There are many good recordings of Carmen, one of the most popular operas of all, but this one included here has shot straight to the top of my list, for sure.

Gisela Litz proves the star of the set, as she should be since she sings the eponymous heroine. She sings with an extraordinarily rich and steady mezzo that enables her to inflect her lines with insight and passion.

For me, Litz effaces all memories of those how have since gone by in the role, with her performance as honest, sensitive, and recognizably Bizet's Carmen as no one has ever quite managed.

The next stand out for me us Puccini: La Bohème, where this particular performance, for me, is a definitive gem also.

As with all the recordings, it follows a practice little employed in the 21st century, but still in active if already declining use in the middle of the last century, that of singing an opera in a language other that in which it was written; that being German here rather than Italian.

The casting however, is imposing by any contemporary standard, with Pilar Lorengar, Rita Streich, Sándor Kónya and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in the lead roles with Albert Erede leading the Staatskapelle Dresden.

Pilar's voice has a velvety sweetness that no other tenor can capture. And a very young Streich sings with such youth and innocence that she just breaks your heart.

Indeed, the whole cast sings with great feeling and they sound as though they are really enjoying themselves.

Next up would be Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin, Op.24, which has gone down as being his most popular romantic opera, of course.

Perhaps more than the others, this 1960's recording actually has the whiff of an earlier age about it; something to do with the rather harsh sound and an element of the old-fashioned "stand and sing" style in the delivery of the cast, one assumes.

No problems with uncertain accents or verbal inflexions here; these are artists with the music in their blood.

As is often the case, the rather mature Tatyana - Evelyn Lear, around fifty here - is rather more convincing as the married woman than the naïve ingenue of the first act, but she successfully lightens her voice to begin with; and despite a few shrill top notes delivers a sympathetic portrayal very much in the style of a young Vishnevskaya - her rival and compatriot. She is clearly an intelligent artist and the occasional lack of vocal allure is compensated for by her identification with the role. Her Onegin, Fritz Wunderlich was blessed with an exceptionally attractive, vibrant, light baritone, yet could be a maddeningly stand-offish singer; sometimes failing to make much effort to complement his beauty of tone with a comparable depth of characterization.

But his is a slow-burn approach, rather like the performance as a whole, and by the time we get to that unbearably poignant final meeting of the deux amants manqués their desperation is palpable.

Lastly I would plump for Verdi: La Traviata, for these is so much in this recording to warrant repeated listening. Hilde Guden uses her rather dark and smoky voice to great effect. As vocal acting and intelligent singing Gudenn's performance is as good as anything I know since the time of Callas.

As far as the eponymous tragic-heroine is concerned La Traviata is an opera of two distinct parts. In Act 1 the role demands a coloratura soprano of lightness and agility. Acts 2 and 3 on the other hand require a voice of greater weight and color.

These qualities are obviously necessary if the singer portraying Violetta is adequately to characterize and express her emotional circumstances and mental state.

Without over-stressing the issue, Claudia Hermann breathtakingly conveys Violetta’s actions and plight seamlessly, painstakingly perfectly in all of the three acts on this recording.

In his insightful liner notes for the Oper Auf Deutsch 15-CD Box-Set, Jürgen Kesting observes, “It was Herbert von Karajan who during his time as ‘general music director of Europe’ insisted that operas should be performed in their original language in Vienna, Salzburg and Milan."

"This was not just the result of musical and linguistic considerations: it also allowed every star singer to appear in his or her signature roles in major opera houses all over the world.”

Official 15CD Box-Set Purchase Link