I purchased this recording of Mozart's opera "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail" when I was still at school. It was on two LPs; I still have them, although they are now a little worn. It was my first venture into a full opera and I was spellbound by it. I've just ordered the CDs of the original recording conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Needless to say I've looked at all the recordings now available, however I feel that the combination of soloists on the Beecham recording cannot be bettered. Lois Marshall who sings the role of Constanze, a Spanish lady betrothed to Balmonte a Spanish nobleman has a sweet and youthful soprano voice. Leopold Simoneau sings the role of Balmonte. He has the most musical of tenor voices and is perfect for the part. Gottlob Frick, bass, who plays the part of Osmin, steward to the Pasha has a wonderfully rich and powerful voice. Beecham's conducting of the Royal Philharmonic is excellent and he conveys the joy and exhuberance that pervades the opera. According to the composer Weber. Mozart never again brought forth a large work so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of youth and happiness. It coincided with the time of his marriage to Constanze. The opera was recorded on Stereo tapes and the sound of the LPs is amazingly good and I look forward to receiving the CDs. At little over £9.00 its a bargain.
The transfer from the original tapes to Compact Disc is excellent and the overall sound much improved.
This is not my favourite "Seraglio", but it is very good, despite being more than 50 years old, and can, of course, be picked up at a bargain price.
Its strengths and weaknesses can be summed up in three words: Sir Thomas Beecham. He shows a great affinity for the music, in my opinion one of Mozart's finest operatic scores, but, as is his wont, messes around with the order of the musical numbers, to no great advantage. There are also a couple of cuts, notably the (not uncommon in those days) excision of Belmonte's "Baumeister" aria, although this is included as one of the tenor arias sung by Léopold Simoneau which act as a "filler" on the disc.
One of the reasons many people will be attracted to this recording is, I suspect, the cast. The women, Lois Marshall and Ilse Hollweg, are the least well known of the singers, but both sing very well, if without special distinction. The great black-voiced Wagnerian bass Gotlob Frick is a magnificent Osmin, a role he recorded more than once, both funny and dangerous. Strangely, his cavernous voice actually sounds lower than it is and the famous bottom Ds are a bit of a stretch for him. The two tenors are both quite wonderful. Although I prefer my Mozart tenors to have a bit more "steel" in the voice, Léopold Simoneau is a model of style and mellifluous tone; there are few better exponents of Mozart tenor roles on record. Gerhard Unger was a star character tenor for many years in Germany; he is a perfect Pedrillo, characterful without resorting to over-emphasis or distorting the musical line and singing most beautifully, even if the (mock) heroism of "Frisch zum Kampfe" stretches him a bit.
Hans Georg Laubenthal delivers the spoken role of Pasha Selim with distinction, but herein lies another drawback of the recording; with the exception of Hollweg and Unger, actors speak the dialogue of the singers involved. Marshall and Simoneau were admittedly not native German speakers, but Frick has delivered Osmin's lines elsewhere with obvious relish in his splendidly sepulchral speaking voice; the voice here does not really "match".
So there are perhaps just too many reasons why this would not be my first choice, but, make no mistake, it is pretty good! Simoneau singing tenor arias by Mozart, incidentally, makes a wonderful (and quite substantial) filler.
I finally had to admit that Böhm's famous account of this jolly opera wasn't doing it for me at all and the most natural antidote to reach for would be Beecham, almost as celebrated for his wit as for his conducting. While he can be castigated for messing about with the order of proceedings (shifting Konstanze's big number "Martern aller Arten" to Act 3), indulging himself in anachronistic mooning in the more emotive numbers such as "Traurigkeit" and avoiding any kind of ornamentation at all, the displacement of Konstanze's aria does make some kind of musical and dramatic sense, the more Romantic treatment of the slow music is amply balanced by his hell-for-leather élan in the Turkish, percussive music and a lack of appoggiaturas was standard in pre-1980's recordings - and he most certainly finds more fun in it than the straitlaced Böhm.
The dialogue is more abbreviated than in the Böhm, but that's no great loss and the matching between actors' and singers' voices is much better than is too often the case. The early stereo recording is a bit steely and blaring in parts but quite acceptable. The main reason I bought the Böhm was Kurt Moll's mighty Osmin, but despite the beauty of his treacly bass, his is a rather grim interpretation and Gottlob Frick has almost as impressive an instrument and in addition conveys rather more sense of the absurdity of the character. Léopold Simoneau's elegant tenor is certainly infinitely more appealing than Schreier's edgy squawking, and Gerhard Unger likewise preferable to Harald Neukirch.
Beecham's two female leads are more problematic. Both Lois Marshall and Ilse Hollweg have nice voices but both give oddly pallid, uninvolved readings of their characters. Neither is bad but neither is memorable. Marshall conveys a generalised sense of melancholy in a sweetly understated "Traurigkeit" but her "Martern aller Arten" is a bravura piece - try Callas's version for contrast! - and here it comes off rather tamely. I don't want to overstate my case; she has the top notes and copes very well with the coloratura; it's just that there is more drama to the music than she finds.
A lovely bonus in what is already a bargain issue is four opera arias and a concert aria from Simoneau in mono. I am also going to try the early Colin Davis set as I like the artists involved, although I have read that there are some inadequacies in the singing there, too. Let's see.