Opera videos of performances before 1980 are quite rare and are mostly films. Recordings of live performances are extremely uncommon and often quite interesting. A couple have just been rereleased on DVD. The one reviewed here is an Ariadne auf Naxos from the 1965 Salzburg Festival (the other is a recording, in German, of Don Giovanni with Fischer-Dieskau – watch this space). It’s an old ORF TV broadcast with a grainy 4:3 black and white picture and less than stellar mono sound but it does provide an idea of what audiences saw and heard fifty years ago.
The production is extremely literal. It’s set in an 18th century house with liveried servants and the stage sets for Act 2 are very stagey though there’s some suggestion of an interesting lighting plot though it’s not really possible to judge in B&W. Zerbinetta’s men are straight out of the commedia and Ariadne looks like a classical Greek. Bacchus gets the only interesting outfit. It’s a bit like Stephen Fry as a Roman centurion. So, the action unfolds exactly per libretto and Günter Rennert’s contribution seems limited to designing some basic blocking.
The singing is good. Erik Frey is a convincing Musiklehrer and Sena Jurinac is very good indeed as the Komponist. Hildegard Hillebrecht sings Ariadne. She’s got a lightish (for Ariadne) voice with a somewhat floaty, silvery tone. She reminds me a bit of Anne Schwanewilms though it’s not easy to make such calls as the recording is a bit hard on the sopranos’ high notes. It’s the same issue with Reri Grist’s Zerbinetta. The notes are all there and her coloratura is impressive. She brought the house down with Grossmächtige Prinzessin. She’s called back maybe three or four times. So, I think I have to conclude that any reservations I might have are a function of the sound quality of the recording. Jess Thomas blasts his way effectively enough through Bacchus. The orchestral playing and general pacing is terrific, as one might expect from the Wiener Philharmoniker and Karl Böhm. He gives me as much pleasure as Andrew Davis; which is saying a lot.
Video direction is by Erich Neuberg and it’s typical of older TV broadcasts which is inevitable given the technical quality. The booklet has a detailed track listing and an essay on Ariadne and Salzburg. There are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian subtitles.