One Terrific Opera Box
"Cult Opera of the 1970s" is a rather odd title for this set, and may put some purchasers off. That would be unfortunate because many opera fans would get great enjoyment from these discs. There are some caveats, however.
This set contains TV productions of ten operas put on by the Hamburg State Opera during the regime of the very creative artistic director Rolf Liebermann. If you are looking for actual stage performances, look elsewhere. However, if you have the slightest interest in how a creative TV director (Joachim Hess) can (effectively and imaginatively) present works originally mounted by a fine artistic director like Liebermann, you should buy these.
Yes, of course, there are staging limitations inherent in TV productions (for the most part overcome here), lip-synching (almost all well done); and you have to make do with mono sound and 4:3 screen aspect ratio. (All the shows are in colour and the colour is pretty good). Everything is sung in German, but there are subtitles that work well. Now although I am pretty sensitive to these kinds of limitations, I enjoyed all of these presentations, and some of them became instant favourites, which I will turn to again and again.
You get operas ranging from standard classics to offbeat or rarely seen items. I have taken in quite a few Menotti productions but never "Help, Help, the Globolinks" and I enjoyed this SF opera very much. "Der Freischutz" isn't likely to turn up in your neighbourhood very soon (I've seen it in Germany) and it is great to have a DVD of this milestone. "Orpheus in the Underworld" is here in a very funny, off-the-wall production. I've already watched it three times. Delightful. "Zar and Zimmermann" is another opera that rarely travels beyond the borders of Germany (I've seen it there). This version is excellent. "Die Zauberflote" is one of the highlights of the set. "Wozzeck" (which I saw in Hamburg) is another gem. "Die Meistersinger" will surprise you; it's superb, right up there with the best DVD versions. "Fidelio" is not an opera I like very much, but here it is, with a good cast. "The Devils of Loudon" is a stunner, although it's not light entertainment. "The Marriage of Figaro" is well-sung, though the sets are awfully basic.
The conductors vary, and range from excellent "kapellmeister" level to more cosmopolitan leaders. The casting is a huge surprise; while there are a few disappointments, you get such amazing singers as Frick, Gedda, Troyanos, Popp, Silya, Sotin, and Jurinac. Giorgio Tozzi is a glorious Hans Sachs, while the wonderful Edith Mathis appears in a few roles. Fischer-Dieskau has a speaking part in Zauberflote.
I've had tremendous fun with this set, and continue to be amazed at how the the German television gang in the 1970s could come up with these very watchable and listenable versions of great, near-great, or, in a few cases, merely offbeat and fascinating operas. "When opera went technicolor" the box boasts--well, I'm glad it did: history is preserved, and many delights made available here for present-day aficionados and fans.