The degree of that impediment feels steeper with the release on the Ponto label of two 1973 Rome RAI broadcast performances of Carl Maria von Weber’s masterpiece, Der Freisch¸tz, paired with his flawed but fascinating last work, Oberon. The Der Freisch¸tz in particular captures an exemplary cast, under the idiomatic leadership of conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch. With that extra, visceral charge of a live performance (albeit not a staged one), Weber’s opera comes to life as it hasn’t consistently done in the studio. With the German-language Oberon (originally composed to an English libretto) as a supplement, this recording becomes a must-buy for lovers of early Romantic opera.
James King and Margaret Price, the Max and Agathe of Der Freisch¸tz, are captured in their prime, and both invest their roles with both dramatic involvement and tonal appeal. Karl Ridderbusch’s Kaspar has the requisite Satanic tinge in his dark delivery, and Helen Donath shines forth in her lovely act three showpiece. The whole performance hangs together so naturally that it revives the lingering question as to why this opera, once a mainstay of the repertory, now qualifies as a relative rarity.
And if Der Freisch¸tz can be called rare, what to say about Oberon? It lives on today in its overture, set in the same mold as that of Der Freisch¸tz‘s but with its own memorable thematic material. The booklet essay by Andrew Palmer relates how this opera’s composition apparently literally proved fatal to von Weber. Perhaps if he had lived he would have been able to make or insist on revisions to the libretto that would make the piece more stageworthy. However, as a pure listening experience, the music need make no excuses. Although often more the work of an experienced craftsman than an inspired artist, that craftsmanship still supplies consistently appealing music. The cast doesn’t quite match the standard set by that of Der Freisch¸tz‘s, with Werner Hollweg’s homely tone and Ingrid Bjoner’s substantive soprano not always having the flexibility von Weber’s score demands. So a better cast can be imagined, but this cast sings well enough to showcase the strengths of the opera. George Alexander Albrecht handles the baton here.
Ponto provides the referenced essay and artist biographies, but regrettably no synopses, except for some sketchy descriptions in the essay. Still, for the budget price Ponto asks, that omission can’t mar the appeal of this entirely enjoyable set. Collectors, commence your search now.
image_description=Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freisch¸tz; Oberon
product_title=Carl Maria von Weber: Der Freisch¸tz; Oberon
product_by=Der Freisch¸tz: James King, Margaret Price, Helen Donath, Karl Ridderbusch, Mario Ferrara, Anton Diakov, Andrezj Snarski, Mario MachÏ, Rolf Tasna, Carmen Lavani, Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI, Wolfgang Sawallisch (cond.)
Live recording, Rome, January 27, 1973
Oberon: Werner Hollweg, Hanna Schwarz, Olivera Miljakovic, Ingrid Bjˆner, Julia Hamari, Joseph Hering, Siegmund Nimsgern, Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI, George Alexander Albrecht (cond.)
Live recording, Rome, February 7, 1973
product_id=Ponto PO-1045 [3CDs]