Oh for the days when a broadcasting company could assemble a good cast, and a first class conductor, orchestra, and chorus for a single studio recording of an opera that would be turned into a recording!

If the reader wonders if the foregoing is a figment of my imagination, let me dispel any doubts. I write about the 1955 BBC recording of Carl Maria von Weber’s rarity EURYANTHE, a re-release of the 1955 recording starring Joan Sutherland, the underrated Dutch tenor Frans Vroons, and Otakar Kraus, Marianne Schech, and Kurt Böhme in important roles.

If the reader is wondering whom to thank, please list among the recipients of your gratitude the British Lyrita Recorded Editions Trust that hold this gem among others in the Itter Broadcast Collection. On that side of the ocean, hats off please to Nimbus Records whose ancillary label Prima Voce has been releasing treasures (155 to date) featuring singers from the first half of the 20th century. Naxos – thanks where thanks are due – distributes Prima Voce in America.

Those are the basic facts. Now, for the music and the performances…

Joan Sutherland recorded this at age 29. The one-in-a-century voice was there, here giving no hints of the coloratura fireworks to come, but with enough vocal heft as Euryanthe to dispel any doubts that in her prime she could have ended up singing the lyric-spinto repertory if shew had wanted to and if Richard Bonynge would have allowed it, wasteful as that would have been. The perfect technique was there. The command of style was there. The musicality was there. The mushy diction was there too, her German coming off sounding less than authentic. But nobody’s perfect.

Here she is singing Euryanthe’s Act I aria:

Frans Vroons is splendid as Adolar: a full-voiced lyric tenor, at his best in the more lyrical passages, his arias Unter bluehenden Mandelbaumen and Wehen mir Luefte Ruh’ both vocal gems. Baritone Otakar Kraus is an impressive  as the villanous Lysiart, excellent in Wo berg’ ich mich his big scena at the top of Act II.

As Eglantine, Marianne Schech – a mellow voiced dramatic soprano – makes her mark in a role that would tax a lesser singer: her rage duet with baritone Kraus, redolent of the Ortrud-Telramund exchanges in Lohengrin. As King Louis, the ever reliable Kurt Böhme, a hilarious Baron Ochs in his prime, is here seriousness  personified. The chorus does terrific work along with the spotless BBC orchestra, both under the commanding baton of Fritz Stiedry.

The music Von Weber wrote for Euryante got no help from Helmina von Chezy’s contrived libretto about perennially chaste but misunderstood princesses and endlessly misunderstanding but stalwart knights, along with the de rigueur envious villains and villainesses. Yet, the composer of the better known Der Freischütz delivers here a richly melodic, dramatically compelling score devoid of the folksy Singspiel dialogue of his earlier works, providing in addition to the familiar overture a show-stopping aria or two for four of the five principals.

Follow all that with smart writing for big-voiced singers, a stunning finale to the second act, and an inventive use of a sort of melodic DNA. Carl Maria von Weber crated a nearly perfect operatic score for Euryanthe, one that predates Wagner’s Leitmotifs and his challenging  writing for the heroic voice by well over a quarter century.

Rafael de Acha