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Just weeks after the initial construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the newly-built Deutsche Oper opened with a Don Giovanni directed by Carl Ebert. Over the following decades the house became an important cultural focus within the city, forging a strongly recognisable company style. Ebert’s production turned out to be his last, and Gustav Rudolf Sellner, hitherto known for his theatre work, took over as general director. Three of the productions in this set are Sellner’s, and together with Ebert’s Giovanni and an Otello by Hans-Peter Lehmann they provide a valuable record of the opening decade of both the theatre and the company’s postwar existence.

The productions are filmed on stage, though in differing situations. The Don Giovanni is performed to an audience, as seemingly are Otello (1962) and Don Carlos (1965); but this isn’t apparent in Die Heimliche Ehe (Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto) or Fidelio (1963) – the singers here are physically vocalising, which doesn’t always fit with the sound. Everything is sung in German apart from Otello, where the soloists perform in Italian against a German chorus. All five films are in black and white, with generally good image and sound quality.

Sellner’s theatrical background is very apparent in his visually simple but highly detailed productions. You are unlikely to see such a dramatic Fidelio as this, not least due to Christa Ludwig’s truly thrilling Leonore. Yet these films aren’t about star turns, but a sense of company. James King is an anguished Florestan and also a secure Don Carlos; Josef Greindl as Rocco also provides a sensitive King Philip in the Verdi, as well as a deftcomic turn in the Cimarosa. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s impassioned Rodrigo turns into an elegantly detailed Giovanni, and Pilar Lorengar’s fleet soprano serves both Elizabeth and Donna Elvira with skill.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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