"THE REICHSORCHESTER" - The Berlin Philharmonic and
the Third Reich, a film by Enrique Sánchez Lansch
A Bolshoi Opera 1982 production of Tchaikovsky's exquisite opera Iolanta was mentioned on this site early in 2010 (REVIEW). Detailed information about the history of the opera is available there. This superb new DVD offers productions of both Iolanta and Perséphone by Peter Sellars, the same basic scenery for each consisting of four large "door frames" lighted to convey varied scenes and emotions. Iolanta's cast is first-rate, with beautiful Ekaterina Scherbachenko a sensitive heroine, vocally secure and totally convincing as the blind princess. Pavel Cernoch is a handsome, ardent suitor; the entire cast could not be bettered. The superb chorus impresses throughout, particularly in the magical scene in which Iolanta regains her vision. The same sets are used for Perséphone, Stravinsky's melodrama for speaker, singers, chorus and orchestra, which had its premiered in Paris in 1934 with the composer conducting. The stark sets and changing lights convey the story of Perséphone's abduction, underworld life, and rebirth. Again, all performers are perfect and the vivid video and state-of-the-art audio brilliantly convey both operas. In a brief "bonus," director Peter Sellers discusses his concept of both operas. This is a quality issue in every way! Mention should also be made of the dynamic young Greek conductor Teopdor Currentzis, who is as adept in the lush Tchaikovsikan music as he is in the spiky Stravinsky ballet.
Rossini composed about 40 operas, several of them more than once one might say. In 1814 his Sigismondo had its unsuccessful premiere, primarily because much of the music had been recycled from the composer's earlier works—and the fact that the plot is confusing didn't help. Sigismondo is seldom performed and for good reason, and there is only one previous recording made in 1992 with Richard Bonynge conducting. Could anyone really understand what's going on in this stupid plot with all of the treachery, doubt, suspicion, deceit, mistaken identity and masquerading? However, the music is charming and a showcase for virtuoso singers as those heard here in this 2010 production from the Bologna Municipal Theater under the brilliant Michele Mariotti who keeps things moving briskly. Actually this opera is quite amusing, and and the video and splendid audio add to the enjoyment.
The Reichsorchester, a documentary by Enrique Sánchez Lansch copyrighted 2007 that focuses on the tragic history of the famed Berlin Philharmonic during the Nazi regime. This is told primarily through the voices of the two remaining members of the BPO from the period, violinist Hans Bastiaan and double-bassist Erichy Hartmann, along with sons and daughters of other orchestral players. We hear how all Jewish members of the orchestra, including concertmaster Szymon Goldberg, were forced to leave, and we see video clips of excerpts from performances mostly conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. The BPO was unintentionally a cultural force for the Nazis and there is no question that the players included many who supported the regime—and many who did not. The :"bonus" is a 1942 Furtwängler-led performance of the Prelude to Die Meistersinger given in a munitions factory. It is unfortunate more performance clips of the era weren't also included; there is room for much more. Still, an important issue, recounting a dark period in the history of one of the greatest orchestras.
R.E.B. (January 2013)