Gotfried von Einem’s Der Besuchen der Alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Lady) has been recently reissued by Orfeo Records as part of the Vienna State Opera Live series. It is indeed a live recording of a stage premiere that dates back to May 23 of 1971. The two CD box (C 930 182) comes with a booklet containing an assortment of production photographs, a synopsis and commentary in several languages but, alas, no libretto.

After its 1955 reopening the Vienna State Opera recorded several live performances with its then legendary roster of singers that features in this recording Christa Ludwig in the central roles of Claire Zachanassian, “the richest woman in the world”, and baritone Eberhard Waechter as the oddly-named III.

Others in the cast include Hans Hotter in what amounts to a comprimario role, and some of the finest character singers of the era, including Manfred Juengwirth, Alois Pernerstorfer, Kurt Equiluz, and Heinz Zednik. House maestro Horst Stein conducts.

Gotfried von Einem liked the sources for his operas dark and brooding, giving us prior to this work an operatic version of Georg Buechner’s The Death of Danton and Franz Kafka’s The Trial. Here, in Friedrich Duerrenmatt’s The Visit he delivers a two-fisted dramatic punch with his musical treatment of the sinister story about a wealthy old hag who comes to a down and out backwater somewhere in post WWII Europe to collect on an old debt from the now old man who once seduced and then abandoned her. She makes a hard to refuse offer to the townspeople: a fortune that will save the town from total ruin in exchange for the life of her former lover.

The music is through-composed – a mix of parlando passages and crisscrossing ensembles interspersed with occasional arioso moments. It takes a Christa Ludwig to deliver the kind of fierce performance she gives in this recording. One can only imagine what she must have been like on the stage of the old opera house. The writing for the part of Claire is fiendishly high at times and then pitched at the bottom of the singer’s range at others. Ludwig sails through it all with flying colors.

The other singers are immensely accomplished, but this is clearly Ludwig’s show.

Rafael de Acha