MAX LORENZ - Wagner's Mastersinger / Hitler's Siegfried "The Life and Times of Max Lorenz"
WAGNER: Act I and excerpts from Act II of Siegfried
MEDICI ARTS DVD VIDEO 2056928 TT: 54 min + CD 74 min

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 (Vienna Symphony Orch). DVORÁK: Symphony No. 9 (Vienna Philharmonic Orch).
MEDICI ARTS DVD VIDEO 2072178 TT: 140 min.

VERDI: La forza del destino
Violeta Urmana (Leonora); Carl Guelfi (Don Carlo); Marcello Giordani (Don Alvaro); Duccio Dal Monte (Marchese di Calatrava); Julia Gertseva (Preziosilla); Roberto Scandiuzzi (Padre Guardiano); Bruno De Simone (Fra Melitone); Chorus and Orchestra of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/Zubin Mehta, cond.

Medici Arts' Max Lorenz twin-disk set is fascinating. The DVD is a film by Eric Schulz and Claus Wischmann that includes interviews with baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, soprano Hilde Zadek, tenors René Kollo and Waldemar Kmentt, dancer Lieselott Tietjen, writer Klaus Geitel, and biographer Walter Herrmann. Max Lorenz (1901-1975) made his operatic debut in Dresden in 1927 and soon became the leading German heldentenor of his time, singing with the Berlin State Opera, the Metropolitan opera and other major opera centers. He was a particular favorite in Bayreuth where he was considered to be the personification of Siegfried, although he was equally successful as Tristan and Walther, as well as Otello. Strauss chose him to sing Bacchus in the premiere of The Egyptian Helen, and Lorenz also sang in contemporary operas of the time: Von Einem's Per Prozess, Rolf Liebermann's Penelope, and Wagner-Régeny's Das Bergwerk zu Falun. In 1932 he married a Jewish woman who was a stabilizing and essential part of his life. Lorenz loved her dearly and always took care of her, but he also was known as a homosexual. Hitler loved Bayreuth, went there often and befriended Lorenz. This was fortunate as this friendship saved Lorenz and his wife from persecution; in this case, Hitler just looked the other way. This documentary is magnificently done—everything a documentary should be, always clear with many valuable film clips some of which never have been seen before. All speakers are identified with every appearance. For me, the only negative feature is video: those being interviewed are photographed very close up. Do we really need to be that close? The accompanying CD is of major importance, from Siegfried we have all of Act I and excerpts from Act II (up to the end of the fight with the dragon) from a performance in Buenos Aires October 4, 1938 with Erich Witte as Mime, Herbert Janssen as The Wanderer, and Emanuel List as Fafner, with Erich Kleiber on the podium. It doesn't get much better than that! The mono sound is good enough to convey the performance.

Karl Böhm's DVD is disappointing. Of course he is a legendary figure, but what we see here is a routine, if detailed, rehearsal of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 with the Vienna Symphony followed by a complete performance, all filmed in black and white in Studio Rosen in Vienna May 2-17, 1966. Dvorák's Symphony was filmed in the Musikverein in Vienna May 18-20 1978, also without an audience. The stereo sound is reasonably good, and there are many close-ups of members of the orchestra when appropriate—but this is not one of the better performances of the New World. The recent DVD of Böhm rehearsing and performing Strauss is of much more interest (REVIEW).

A really good DVD of La forza del destino is needed with the great voices Verdi intended to sing it. This new Fiorentino set recorded at performances in Firenze on unspecified dates in 2007 isn't it. Timo Schüssel has updated the action a century, with sets by Ezio Frigerie and costumes by Franca Squarciapino—no problem there. Violetta Urmana, who first sang in this opera as Preziosilla before she changed from mezzo to soprano, is no challenge whatever for the best Leonoras of the past, and her matronly appearance is not a plus. Marcello Giordani, who recently has almost by default become a leading tenor at the Met, is dependable but little more as Don Alvaro. Basses Roberto Scandiuzzi and bruno De Simone don't have the range or power for the important roles of Guardino and Melitone. The star in this performance is conductor Zubin Mehta. Video and audio are excellent, but this is not a memorable Forza.

R.E.B. (January 2009)