OP0118. OLYMPIA, Live Performance, 8 Nov., 1964, w.Albrecht Cond. RIAS Enesmble; Julia Varady, Stefania Toczyska, Franco Tagliavini, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, etc . (Germany) 2-Orfeo C137 862, w.Elaborate Libretto-Brochure. Final Sealed Copy!
“When OLYMPIA was given at Palermo in 1979 OPERA's correspondent wrote that it ‘aroused genuine enthusiasm, almost as if it were one of the more popular nineteenth-century pieces’. Good for Palermo. All credit too to Orfeo and whoever were the prime instigators of this recording from Berlin, 1984. It is appropriate that it should have been made there, for, though the opera had its premiere at Paris where it was also given in the revised version on which the recording is said to be based, Berlin was the city which showed most appreciation. It was performed there (also revised) in 1821, ‘one of the most brilliant and perfect performances ever seen’ according to Spitta, and was repeated 78 times. The arrival of DER FREISCHÜTZ five weeks later was bad luck. It 'placed' Spontini's opera as a product of the old, pre-romantic period, and contributed to the eclipse which he and his last masterpiece suffered. And yet, if for part of the time as we listen to it now we are connecting it back with Cherubini and Gluck, we are also certainly thinking ahead to Berlioz.
The story, derived from a tragedy by Voltaire, tells of the rivalry of two men for the hand of Alexander the Great's daughter. Unfortunately one of the suitors was responsible for the great man's murder and the other was accredited with it. His widow is alive and active, and like the priests, warriors and Ephesians in general has a good deal to sing about. This is grand opera living up to its names, and one might wonder whether the plane is altogether too lofty to accommodate mere humanity. Dramatically, such human appeal as the opera possesses comes from the two women; the men are hero and villain respectively and not much else. Yet at nearly all points the music has enough vitality, depth and variety to give the drama a genuine life of its own. The composer's imagination is clearly engaged throughout, and most listeners are likely to find the opera an absorbing and distinctive experience.
Gratitude for the experience makes one reluctant to criticize its providers. To be sure, Julia Varady sings beautifully and there is no criticism here. Her gracious, humane and aristocratic performance makes all the difference between a picture-frame drama and a persuasive encounter with reality….The French text is used but so are accents from all over Europe. The performance holds together well and yet it is not hard to conceive of a more dynamic orchestral style. The score abounds in fortissimo and pianissimo directions, and we gather that as a conductor Spontini specialized in strong, even extreme effects….the CD, just that bit more vivid in sound and in dramatic continuity, is a prime recommendation as is the opera itself.”