Thursday, September 03, 2020

Oper auf Deutsch

Many years ago,
the supermarket closest to my childhood home had a huge bin up by the cash
registers. In most stores, these would contain candy, gum, shampoo or whatever
last minute purchases one didn’t need that were too yummy to ignore. Had I been
older back then I would have sought out and befriended the manager. You had to
look elsewhere for Ring-dings and Milky Ways (and I did). This big box
contained “classical music” LPs. That’s short for long-playing records for
those of you born after 1980. Records are…oh, never mind.

It was in
the Stop and Shop in Lexington Massachusetts that I bought, for forty-nine cents
each, LPS of Beethoven symphonies, Mozart piano sonatas and Puccini operas. All
you needed to do was dive in while your mother bought the coffee, pot roast and
toothpaste. You’d find Madama Butterfly and the Polovtsian Dances. If you were lucky,
there’d be a mass by Schubert.

One day I came
up with a single LP of scenes from Verdi’s opera Aida. This was something I
knew. We had studied Aida in school.  I
paid my forty-nine cents and took the record home.

What did I hear?
Leontyne Price? Maria Callas and Richard Tucker? No. I heard a recording made
in Vienna, sung in German. At least I thought it eras German. I was sure it was
not Verdi’s Italian. The sound quality of these cheap records (forty-nine cents
wasn’t a lot even in 1969) was pretty good. I had never heard of any of the
singers, but I kept listening.

I went for
more. That supermarket bin, if you really dived, had lots more single LP
highlights, of La boheme, Rigoletto, Barber of Seville, and some pieces I didn’t
know, among them Tiefland and Zar und Zimmerman. I bought them all.

I played
them so often that I forgot that Der Barbier von Sevilla was really Il barbiere
di siviglia-The Barber of Seville. I fell in love with Tchaikovsky’s Eugene
Onegin, ten years before I knew it was written in Russian not German.

I knew the
marquee named singers of the time, Callas, Tebaldi, Corelli, Tucker,  Price, Merrill, und so weiter. 

I was learning
to love, at forty-nine cents a pop, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Fritz Wunderlich,
Evelyn Lear, Hans Hotter and Irmgard Seefried.

Fast forward
fifty years. I get an email recently advertising a 15 CD set called Opera auf
Deutsch. And there, compete are all of the albums I bought in 1969-1970. The sound
quality better than ever. Fischer-Dieskau, Wunderlich, Lear, Hotter and
Seefried are all in heaven now. So are the beautiful voices I loved then and
knew less: Gloria Davy (WONDERFUL American soprano) Sandor Konya, Ernst
Haelfiger and Rita Streich.

There they
are, all singing in German, as if you were hearing a performance in Mannheim or
Pforzheim (not Hamburg or Vienna). Those smaller German cities had very high
standards judging from these recordings.

I’m not sure
I want to sit through Aida or Rigoletto other than in Italian. But to be taken
back fifty years, for less than forty bucks for a 15 CD set, to hear a
masterful production of Eugene Onegin, an excellent Aida and Rigoletto, and a
lot more, well, I’m delighted that DGG has seen fit to return these Opera in
German performances to the catalog. They are every bit as enjoyable as that box
of Ring Dings at the check-out counter, and the pleasure lasts forever.