This is a gem of a production, a perfect choice to introduce opera to those who generally steer clear of it. Opera purists, of course, may object to the fact that it is a film. Actors play the parts of the lovers and the voices of the two lead singers, Helen Field and Arthur Davies, are dubbed to the excellent mime performances of Dana Morakova and Michael Dlouhy. Thomas Hampson, who plays the intriguing character of the Dark Fiddler, naturally does his own singing.
The story is based on a German-language classic of Gottfried Keller, a distinguished Swiss writer, and ultimately of course on Shakespeare. The libretto, written by Delius himself, is powerful and to the point. It tells the story of lovers, childhood sweethearts, doomed by their alienation from their community and driven towards death by their refusal to accept any compromise that might diminish their mutual passion. A 19th century rural teen Liebestod that might even catch the interest of younger viewers today! (Well, perhaps I'm dreaming . . .)
The film is visually compelling, combining idyllic mountain views with intimate indoor scenes, and capturing the little that Delius chose to show of the enclosing rural community in the intriguing fair scene. The scene with the "bohemian" mountain gypsies (including some nudity) gives a glimpse of the more free-wheeling kind of love that the young people refuse to let their attachment become. The four actors, two children and the two teenaged lovers, are a pleasure to watch; they are all very good-looking and act expertly. Hampson is excellent. The dubbing is near perfect. Sir Charles Mackerras conducts flawlessly and with total commitment. The music, played by the ORF, is presented in 5.1 digital, and is sumptuous, getting better as the opera goes on. It includes "The Walk to the Paradise Garden," a rather familiar and most wonderful Delius moment.
If you are an opera lover who wants only stage make-believe this cinematic make-believe will probably not please you. But the director Peter Weigl, I believe, does a brilliant job here, making all the right choices and avoiding any temptation to "update" the timeless story. An excellent and thought-provoking essay by Christopher Palmer accompanies the disc and there is a substantial documentary on Delius as a bonus.
What more could one ask? I've already watched this disc several times and will return to it often.