Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Email Password  
Not a subscriber yet?  
Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Chris Mullins
Opera Today, October 2011

As long as one keeps in mind that historical value is not the same as aesthetic quality, this DVD of early 1960’s live German TV performances of two short Gian Carlo Menotti operas makes for fascinating viewing.

Despite the questionable merit of Menotti, anyone with any nostalgia at all about the early days of TV and live performance should seek out this DVD. Even the interview is a treat, with its bland interviewer sitting at a bare desk before a curtain, asking Otto Schenk to explain the show for the audience. Schenk clearly believes in these works, as the committed acting of his singers indicates. So as a historical document rather than artistic artifact, this DVD gets a recommendation.

Michael Mark
American Record Guide, March 2011

MENOTTI, G.C.: Alte Jungfer und der Dieb (Die) / Das Medium (Studio Productions, 1961 and 1964) (NTSC) 101515
MENOTTI, G.C.: Konsul (Der) (Studio Production, 1963) (NTSC) 101525

My dislike has turned to like. These are straightforward productions with simple, effective sets and costumes. Characters act and react. Both videos are led by conductors who are smart enough to let Menotti’s music unfold naturally. Try these videos; I think you’ll like them.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

David Shengold
Opera News, March 2011

Arthaus Musik’s release is a curiosity but will gratify fans of Gian Carlo Menotti’s operas. The set contains two of his most successful short operas, studio-filmed in German translations by notable casts and Vienna Volksoper forces under Otto Schenk’s skilled if occasionally kitschy direction for Austrian television. The technical quality of the black-and-white originals —the comedy from 1961, the tragedy from 1964—leaves something to be desired even after rehabilitation, with occasional flutters and jumps, but this DVD still rewards watching.

The Old Maid and the Thief (1939), Menotti’s first opera in English, reflects his perception (from visits to life partner Samuel Barber’s native West Chester, Pennsylvania) that an ordinary-seeming American town can conceal many secret doings. Dated in attitudes but gently amusing, it attracts student groups and furnishes the audition chestnut “Steal me, sweet thief.” Broadway-trained African–American Volksoper stalwart Olive Moorefield sings it here as Laetitia, the maid who gets “stolen.” Neither technique nor accent is faultless, but it’s a pretty tone, and she’s quite bewitching.

The plot depends on the foibles and suspicions of two neighboring spinsters, Misses Todd and Pinkerton. Starting with cartoons for the buffo overture, this 1961 television film, conducted by Wolfgang Rennert, showcases two of the great ladies of Viennese opera in the mid-twentieth century—Elisabeth Höngen (1906–97) and Hilde Konetzni (1905–80), as Todd and Pinkerton, respectively. Both retain much of their characteristic vocal qualities, despite inevitable signs of aging. Höngen’s mezzo lightened in timbre with the decades. Briefly at the Met in 1952, she won the respect of her Viennese colleagues via her versatility (her recorded legacy stretches from Pergolesi through Poulenc and beyond) and supreme musico-dramatic acumen. As proper Miss Todd, she’s an expert comedienne worthy of an Ealing Studios release. KonetzĀ­ni, a Vienna native and local favorite for decades, remained a popular Sieglinde and Marschallin until switching to character roles; she’s adorable here. Bob, the supposed thief, is Eberhard Wächter, a gifted baritone who for decades was the reigning matinée idol of the Viennese opera stage. Singing strongly, he relishes playing a good-looking tippling lout in a Stanley Kowalski muscle shirt.

The Medium (1946) had its premiere at Columbia University before achieving a 1947 Broadway run and a 1951 film (both with Marie Powers). It has long been a starring vehicle for veteran singing actresses such as Gianna Pederzini, Regina Resnik and Régine Crespin; today, Joyce Castle carries on the tradition. Armando Aliberti conducts this version, dominated as it should be by Höngen’s Madame Flora. Those who know the piece may take a while to adjust to hearing “Doodly, bist du’s?,” but Schenk’s direction sustains tension.

Karl Böhm, who used Höngen in the first Macbeth and Frau ohne Schatten recordings, called her opera’s greatest tragedian. At her entrance she seems both too handsome and too affable, and her tone sometimes sounds worn—though not wobbly. Her non-gorgon interpretation humanizes a character sometimes caricatured and builds with admirable conviction. Maria José De Vine, though more grown-up than Anna Maria Alberghetti in the famous film, is well cast as the lyrical, girlish Monica. As the mute Toby, Anthony Perkins look-alike Nino Albanese performs nimbly. Konetzni is very expressive and affecting as poor Mrs. Nolan, and Volksoper mainstay Sonja Draksler and Boston-born Norman Foster do justice to the credulous Gobineaus.

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, March 2011

MENOTTI, G.C.: Konsul (Der) (Studio Production, 1963) (NTSC) 101525
MENOTTI, G.C.: Alte Jungfer und der Dieb (Die) / Das Medium (Studio Productions, 1961 and 1964) (NTSC) 101515

Receiving these from Fanfare turned into a huge surprise. My first reaction on seeing them was something along the lines of “Who needs Menotti operas in German?” However, I dutifully put them in the DVD player, and was totally hooked.

These are co-productions of the Austrian Radio and, in the case of The Consul, the SDR (South German Radio, now part of SWR), and in the case of the other two, the Bavarian Radio. The Old Maid and the Thief dates from 1961, The Consul from 1963, and The Medium from 1964. As a bonus on the two discs there are interviews with Menotti (with The Consul) and director Otto Schenck (with the others). These are rather simplistic Austrian radio interviews that do not offer much insight.

But the productions are, in a word, phenomenal. Menotti has rarely received such luxury casting—look at the names! Who would ever have expected to hear a young Eberhard Wächter in these works? Every singer is perfectly cast, thoroughly into his or her role, and directed with extraordinary effectiveness for the television screen. It is important to note that these were not staged performances filmed for TV. They were created with the television medium in mind, and the works are perfect for that medium.

If you are at all a fan of Menotti’s operas, you must see these. Despite the German language (of course, English titles are provided), they are extraordinarily powerful renditions of all three works. Even Menotti’s comic opera The Old Maid and the Thief has its dark undertones, all of which are brought to the surface by Schenck. The camerawork is excellent, the restored video quality is fine (they are black and white), and the monaural sound is fine.

Highlight performances include both of Wächter’s, Gloria Lane’s infuriating Secretary in the Consul’s office (I wanted to slap her because of the vividness of her portrayal of the unfeeling bureaucrat), Maria José de Vine’s gorgeously sung and touching Monika, and all of the roles taken by Hilde Konetzni and Elisabeth Höngen. Norman Foster (remember him from Horenstein’s Vox Mahler songs?) sings and acts wonderfully as Mr Gobineau, and an astonishing portrayal of an old Italian lady in The Consul is turned in by none other than Ljuba Welitsch.

It is time for a serious reevaluation of Gian Carlo Menotti, and perhaps these European performances, where the music and the drama were taken seriously by some of the most important operatic artists of the 1960s, will help. Menotti may not have carved new ground in his work, but that is not always essential (just look at Mendelssohn for an example of an important composer who created no new paths). His music is high in inspiration, his sense of theatrical pacing is superb, his orchestrations colorful, and he wrote in a very gratifying way for the voice. It would be hard to imagine any opera lover watching these videos and not coming away deeply moved.

There are excellent notes about the productions and the operas—in short, Arthaus Musik has done itself proud. Consider this a very enthusiastic recommendation.

Kevin Filipski
Times Square, October 2010

two Menotti operas, The Old Maid and the Thief and The Medium (Arthaus Musik), are seen in provocative 1963 TV stagings by esteemed director Otto Schenk (lone extra: Schenk interview)

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group