“It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry over the first of this superb batch of videos, a devastating critique of the time-beaters and time-servers who entertained the Nazi regime and its lackeys so well. There they are, pinned down for ever by the film-makers, often with Nazi insignia prominently displayed in the background and major officials of the Third Reich such as Joseph Goebbels prominent in the audience. Max von Schillings, soon to die but looking for all the world like a Prussian general, directs the William Tell Overture; a sequence of excerpts from Die Meistersinger features Leo Blech (who should have known better, being Jewish), Karl Böhm, Herbert von Karajan and Wilhelm Furtwängler; two snippets of Beethoven’s Ninth bring us Furtwängler again—with some good shots of Gerhard Taschner—and Hans Knappertsbusch; and finally, Clemens Krauss is seen in Schubert’s Unfinished. An eloquent, incontrovertible indictment by Frederic Spotts in the booklet is worth almost as much as the video itself. Compulsive watching.
“Two tenors are well served by documentaries. The greatest of all, Caruso, is treated to such a well sourced and researched programme—made by A&E Television—that you wish it were twice as long. The wish comes true, in a way, because Bel Canto Society has appended My Cousin, the enjoyable silent movie in which the tenor plays two roles. The documentary involves both Caruso’s son Enrico Jnr and Andrew Farkas, who collaborated on the biggest and best biography so far. We learn of the tenor’s complicated love life but his career and its significance are fully covered. I had not realised how much archive footage of him existed.
“A key figure in the Caruso programme, Peter Rosen, was also involved in the enjoyable film about Jan Peerce, another singer from a humble background. An interview Isaac Stern did with the tenor forms the backbone of the piece; and Stern returns to act as host and narrator—his words scripted by Martin Bookspan, no less. Failing sight (not mentioned here) caused Peerce to retire from opera but he had a second career as a touring recitalist and was still singing magnificently in his late 70s. Musical highlights include a stylish ‘Il mio tesoro’, the least wimpish version since Tauber, and an early music hall sketch in which Peerce appears as a singing frankfurter seller! We learn of his courage in bringing religious solace to Jews in the Soviet Union, and of the problems of eating kosher when on tour in Japan. Splendid stuff.”