Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Brunch – Sull' Aria (Rothenberger & Jones)

Here is a surprise treat: Gwyneth Jones before she shredded her voice, and the ever-lovely Anneliese Rothenberger, who probably never sang an ugly note in her life. Together, they perform the beautiful soprano duet from Mozart's Die Hochzeit des Figaro. I am not sure, but this duet was probably performed in isolation, specifically for TV (not a full opera production.)

Yes, you read that right: Die Hochzeit des Figaro. This is back when folks in Germany preferred their opera in their native language. (Many still do.) There is a lot to be said for (and against) that practice. It’s great to understand (as best as one can usually understand an opera singer singing opera) the words, but sometimes a translation can really fu… er foul up the music, not only by changing vowels, but often messing with the rhythm. 

Clearly Italian opera sounds better in Italian, but what a revelation it can be to hear, say, La Traviata in English! Of course for English speakers, Italian opera sung in German can be of dubious value, but they didn't record this for us, and it's really a pointless argument when you get to hear great singers singing great music. (There is a clip somewhere of Fritz Wunderlich singing Tchaikowsky. The fact that he is singing in German, not Russian, does nothing to diminish his awesome artistry!)

Oddly, my first exposure to Figaro was a recording in German, with Rothenburger, Hilde Guden, Hermann Prey, and other major German opera stars. I think that Sull’ aria is available on YouTube somewhere, too. 

Editor's note: The above post was written and scheduled about a week ago. On Friday, a discussion cropped up at the Earworm blog about singing opera in translation. It started out about Wagner in English, then moved on to Mozart, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky translations. I mention this: (A) for your reading interest; (B) to emphasize that I was thinking about it before that post came up; and (C) to invite you to ponder how often we bloggers manage to get on the same wavelength without knowing it. Spooky!


  1. If this weren't a video I would never have identified the Countess as Jones. Admittedly this is lip synched but I have never heard her voice under such control. Even her first records, all pre Wagner, one can her the seeds of a lack of steadiness--possibly her video of Rosenkavalier is an example of her best singing. I don't mind the da Ponte operas in German until they start the recits: it's all down hill. On the other hand the Ruth and Thomas Martin English translations were horrible. I too owned that Nozze with Prey and Gueden; it wasn't as glamorous as the Giulini but it was a good performance. EMI later released a live performance from Salzburg in German with Schwarzkopf and Schoeffler and conducted by Furtwangler (I think). Well sung as I recall but not as lively as the studio German set.

    1. I learned Figaro in the Martin translation. It's not bad, till you realize what the Italian is all about, and that the English bears very little resemblance to the original.


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