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"I share the view of Toscanini's able biographer, Harvey Sachs, who called the performance “original and fascinating and, for the most part, very beautiful.“ As is often the case with a familiar work heard for the first time in a Toscanini performance, one may find all sorts of suggestions and insights that prove to be an education. Tempos are unconventional—both faster and slower than usual—but most of all there is a sense of the work's humor, sensuousness (even sensuality), and drama." - Mortimer H. Frank, Fanfare magazine, 1989
Amazingly for a conductor whose career began in the world of opera, and who recorded so much music, the present recording represents the sole example of Toscanini conducting a full opera by Mozart.
Dating from the Salzburg Festival of 1937, it was recorded not onto disc but onto film, using a device called a Selenophone. Whilst this hardly offered any great advantages in terms of sound quality over more conventional methods at the time, it did allow for much longer recording times of up to 30 minutes at a time.
The source for this restoration was a transfer made from the original Selephone onto high quality quarter-inch tape by John Corbett, technical curator of the Toscanini Archives and longtime engineer at NBC for the Toscanini broadcasts, at Toscanini's Riverdale home. However the sound quality was never ideal; commenting on a previous release, Mortimer H. Frank noted: "let it be added that the sound, for all the improvement, hardly rises above the primitive. Balances are often ludicrous (the Overture sounds like a concerto for timpani), with constantly shfiting perspectives as the singers move toward and away from a single microphone. Furthermore, inaudible voices, considerable harshness, shattering, and assorted sonic clatter remain."
Some of these problems will always be insurmountable. A single, badly placed microphone some 80 years ago cannot be moved today; a frequency range of around 6kHz cannot be magically extended. And yet we can make significant inroads today on some of the worst aspects of the original and present a much better picture of this unique recording than has previously been available. Long out of print, it's a pleasure to bring this important artefact back into the public domain.
MOZART Die Zauberflöte
Tamino : Helge Roswaenge (tenor)
Pamina : Jarmila Novotna (soprano)
Papageno : Willi Domgraf-Fassbänder (bass)
Papagena : Dora Komarek (soprano)
Queen of the Night : Julie Osvath (soprano)
Sarastro : Alexander Kipnis (bass)
The first priest : Alfred Jerger (bass)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini
XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Toscanini
Recorded 30 July 1937. Festspielhaus, Salzburg
Total duration: 2hr 25:31
Toscanini is mainly known to us now as an orchestral conductor, but he had a long pedigree as an opera conductor at La Scala (1898-1908 and 1921-26), the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1908-1915), and Bayreuth (1930-31). In 1935 he took charge of the Salzburg Festival in Austria and would return in both 1936 and 1937. Although he conducted several operas while at NBC in the 1940s and 1950s, which survive as broadcasts, most of his operatic career was not captured on disc. In 1937 a new method of capturing live opera performances was being tested, the Selenophone machine. The Selenophone captured sound on film, and unlike transcription disc-cutters which were restricted to about 15 minutes of music at best, could record for about 30 minutes at a time.
Five of the operas at the 1937 Salzburg Festival were recorded in this way, Die Zauberflöte; Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; and Falstaff, all conducted by Toscanini as well as Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni both conducted by Bruno Walter. A sixth opera, Fidelio, was probably recorded but the tape is now lost. This recording of Die Zauberflöte is important because it is the only example we have of Toscanini conducting a Mozart opera. It is also the last time Toscanini conducted staged opera, since he refused to return to Salzburg in 1938 after the annexation of Austria by Germany.
Danish tenor Helge Rosevaenge is Tamino. His voice is perhaps larger and more heroic than many other singers in this role, and indeed his core repertoire involved roles such Don Jose, Radames and Otello. His career was generally based in Germany, and he remained there both during and after the war. Although fully capable of singing Wagner he rarely performed it on stage and almost certainly extended his career as a result.
Soprano Jarmila Novotná was born in 1907 in Prague in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Much of her early career was spent in Germany but the rise of Nazism in 1933 led her to move first to Vienna, and then to New York. At the Metropolitan Opera she sang a wide variety of roles between 1940 and 1956, with ‘trouser’ roles such as Cherubino and Octavian a speciality.
Papageno is sung by Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender. Domgraf-Fassbaender’s career was concentrated in Germany and Austria both before and after the war, specialising in Mozart’s lyric baritone roles. He recorded widely including two complete Mozart operas under Fritz Busch with the forces of Glyndebourne Opera.
Russian bass Alexander Kipnis sings Sarastro. Much of his early career was spent in Germany, including Bayreuth, but like Novotna he was forced out of Germany in 1933 due to his Jewish heritage, and went first to Austria then the USA. His Met career was dominated by Wagnerian roles, but the radio audience was also treated to him singing Boris Godunov in Russian while the rest of the cast sang in Italian.
Hungarian soprano Júlia Osváth was not yet 30 years old when she was cast as the Queen of the Night in this production at Salzburg. It would be fair to say that coloratura was not her strongest suit, particularly when compared with such technically proficient singers as Joan Sutherland. The rest of her voice is relatively solid and secure, and it’s unfortunate that this role demands such florid coloratura.