* Mihoko Fujimura (Alto)
* Christian Gerhaher (Baritone)
* Jonas Kaufmann (Tenor)
* Susanne Kelling (Mezzo Soprano)
* Alfred Reiter (Bass)
* Nyla Van Ingen (Soprano)
* Henryk Böhm (Baritone)
* Jörg Hempel (Baritone)
* Stuttgarter Choir
* SWR Rundfunkorchester Kaiserslautern
Live recording in 1998, with a good hall ambience and very well balanced sound both of orchestra and singers, rarely so well done for live opera recordings. Musically this is a winner through and through, with a wonderful orchestra and a vocal dream cast, all of whom sung tremendously well.
The work is early romantic opera in the grand French opera style that premiered at Berlin in 1878.
Peter Falk conducts a great cast here, comprising, in the title role, Jonas Kaufmann in this world premiere recording of this rarely performed opera, then only 29 years old. Kaufmann's voice was fresh, vibrant and very flexible in this performance, some thing that alas could not be said today. He has absolutely no problem with mezza voce here. The timbre is lyrical and heroic in one, with mesmerizing soft singing and ringing top notes when called for, and his singing is very dramatic, as the role of Ekkehard is both a lover and a hero. Added on to all these is the fact that in this genre of work, Kaufmann is unbeatable stylistically.
The supporting cast also contains, very rarely singing together with Kaufmann these days, the great lieder baritone Christian Gerhaher, who sings the small role of Chapel Master at the opening Act's harvest celebrations. Gerhaher sang exactly as he does today - with a honey-hued light weight baritone, highly focused, totally flexible and with fully mellifluous timbre and utterly elegant phrasing that befits the role. Only if the role is not such a small one!
The other reknowned performer include Japanese contralto Mihoko Fujimura in the role of the Forest Woman.
It is a shame that this virtually unknown German opera recording has been left to almost oblivion, and if I did not visit Kaufmann's personal website, would not even know that there is such a piece of work.
The music is very beautiful, though the singing largely comprise of ensemble (Ekkehard does have a solo piece `Der Gedanken Sturm zu Bannen' that you can also find on Youtube sung immaculately by Kaufmann).
The story is about the life of a monk at the Abbey of St. Gall called Ekkehard, based on a novel by von Scheffel. Roughly speaking, this monk fell in love with two women in a castle (one duchess and one lady in waiting) and had to die at the end for saving his loved ones from invading Huns. The biggest drawback of this otherwise immaculate recording is the lack of translated libretto (available only in German).
Otherwise, artistically this deserves to be a 5-star product. Especially for fans of Kaufmann (and Gerhaher), to hear these two great Bavarian singers in an early live recording, this is a `must' choice.