DVD 1: The Opera Singer, DVD 2: Master of the Lied
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon (Universal)
Video: 4:3 full screen color
Audio: PCM Stereo/Mono
Extras: Interview with Jens Malte Fischer: Lied
Length: 1 & 2 = 178 min., Interview: 24 min.
Although he enjoyed considerable success on the operatic stage, the
prolific baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is primarily known as an
interpreter of lieder. An icon of twentieth-century singing, he was
particularly admired for his delightful interpretation of Schubert. To
correct the widespread perception that Fischer-Dieskau excelled at
lieder at the expense of opera, Deutsche Grammophon has issued a
two-DVD set of mostly televised operatic excerpts of various lengths,
as well as a TV song recital with songs ranging from Beethoven to
Richard Strauss, followed by Mahler’s Kindentotenlieder.
Although a fitting tribute to this artist, who turned eighty in May,
the two DVDs fail to persuade that Fischer-Dieskau is equally at home
on the stage and in the song repertoire. Undoubtedly there are some
high points in “The Opera Singer,” the first DVD, particularly in
Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro (1975), conducted by Karl Böhm. Here, with
his infinitely variable facial expressions, “Fi-Di,” as he is
affectionately known, is a delightful Count Almaviva enjoying Figaro’s
(sung by Hermann Prey) and Suzanna’s (by Mirella Freni) shenanigans.
His Don Giovanni, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Sung in German,
these black-and-white (and grainy) 1961 excerpts conducted by Ferenc
Fricsay present a restless and awkward Don. But then we get his Barak
in Frau ohne Schatten (1963), in which he is strong-voiced and
satisfyingly vigorous. There are other delights in this set, for
instance, Lisa della Casa’s Arabella, plus a surprise performance of
Aribert Reimann’s 1936 opera Lear.
In the lieder Fach, however, Fischer-Dieskau is non-pareil. Accompanied
by the lively piano playing of conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch, his
expressions in this 1974 televised performance change like clouds on a
full moon. And when he sings Schubert, he is really in his element,
with his customary vehemence in full display in “Auf der Bruck.” In
“Die Sterne,” between Sawallisch’s exquisite tempi and
Fischer-Dieskau’s expert interpretation, things couldn’t get much
better. In Mahler’s Kindentotenlieder (1968, in black and white, and in
good sound), this masterly interpreter of lieder is highly engaged with
the tragedy of deceased children, with exquisite legatos and prayerlike
tones at the end. This section alone is worth the price of the set.