Collection: Vienna State Opera

COMPOSERS: Mozart,Puccini & Berg,Smetana,Verdi
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Operas by Smetana, Verdi, Mozart, Puccini & Berg
PERFORMER: Various singers & conductors
CATALOGUE NO: see text for individual catalogue numbers

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Impressively documented, this series of live performances from the Vienna State Opera derives from Austrian Radio broadcasts. The sound quality improves steadily over the period involved (1955-84), to reach an excellent standard in the later examples.

Smetana’s Dalibor (1969; 74321 57735 2) boasts a considerable cast but the score has been ‘adapted’ and is sung in a German translation. The Simon Boccanegra (1984; RCA 74321 57733 2) also has its strengths, though the tenor and soprano principals are disappointing. More consistent, and indeed emblematic of the house’s famed Mozartian style, is the Don Giovanni, recorded on the night after the theatre’s long-awaited postwar reopening in November 1955 (74321 57737 2).

George London is a devilish charmer of a Giovanni, Erich Kunz an excellent Leporello, and Anton Dermota a classic interpreter of Ottavio. Lisa della Casa makes a gallant and surprisingly successful attempt at Donna Anna, though Elvira was her regular part. That role is delivered in high-powered fashion by Sena Jurinac. Karl Böhm’s conducting is pacy and lithe, and due to the energy and detail of the whole enterprise, one overlooks the fact that this performance, too, is sung in German.

The 1963 production of La bohème (74321 57736 2) was the occasion for a famous and echt-Viennese scandal (described in the booklet) that contributed to Karajan’s disenchantment as director of the opera (he resigned the following year). No evidence of problems in the performance here, however, with Mirella Freni offering a gem of a Mimì, Rolando Panerai a larger-than-life Marcello, Hilde Gueden a Musetta with personality to spare and Gianni Raimondi a stylistically confident even if vocally small-scale Rodolfo.

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The first Viennese performance of the completed Lulu (74321 57734 2) is documented in a performance from 1983, with Lorin Maazel conducting a fluid and dramatically sentient account of Berg’s masterpiece. His cast is formidable, with Julia Migenes poised even in the highest reaches of the part, Theo Adam vehement as Dr Schön, Brigitte Fassbaender tackling Geschwitz with a Brahmsian liquidity and Hans Hotter a memorable Schigolch.