Notes and Editorial Reviews
The Taming of the Shrew
Joseph Keilberth, cond; Anneliese Kupper (
); Elisabeth Lindermeier (
); Marcel Cordes (
); Waldemar Kmentt (
); Benno Kusche (
); Gottlob Frick (
); Bavarian RSO & Ch
PROFIL 7007, mono (2 CDs: 136:24)
Hermann Goetz’s 1874 opera
The Taming of the Shrew
(“Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung”), hardly ever revived today, was at one time one of the most frequently performed comic operas in the German provincial repertoire. It shows a lightness of touch married to the ability to move between melancholic lyricism and folksy tunefulness that harkens back to and even surpasses the best of Lortzing and Nicolai (especially the latter’s
Merry Wives of Windsor
), while remaining weighty enough never to be confused with the burgeoning genre of operetta as espoused by Millöcker, Suppé, and J. Strauss, Jr. Occasionally light glimmers of the Wagnerian mode are reflected in a chromatic turn of phrase, an ominous underscoring, and the sense that there are well-plotted arcs of music to correspond to the action. But, though some suggested the influence of
, there are few convincing traces of that and no real Leitmotivs; it is resolutely a number opera in the old, Mozartian manner. As such, it offers a valuable insight into the surprisingly healthy state of German comic opera in the post-Wagnerian age, as well as into the shooting-star career of its composer, who died in 1876, four days before his 36th birthday, leaving behind only a handful of completed compositions: this opera and 24 published works, including a violin concerto, piano concerto, and one surviving symphony (the symphonic works captured in a well-received three-CD set from cpo (999 9392).
This is sophisticated, elegant writing that does not wear its effort on its sleeve and yields an abundance of hummable tunes, so it is baffling why this work has not been taken up more often in the studio. Although the plot follows the rough outlines of Shakespeare’s comedy, listeners should be forewarned of some crucial differences. Katharina falls in love with Petruccio fairly early in the process, and is thus tamed before he quite realizes it, sapping the main story line of much of its tension; this brings the central love interest into conformity with the conventions of popular German comic opera, as in
, but it renders her “shrewishness” as somewhat gratuitous, unmotivated by a desire to remain independent. To compensate for the decreased role of Katharina, the story of Bianca and several rival suitors is amplified, and, indeed, dominates the action at the beginning of the first act. An old tutor, Hortensio (sung with stock comic precision by light character-bass Benno Kusche), acts as a stand-in for the other suitors in general, and, as some have mentioned, receives similar dramatic treatment to Beckmesser, reflecting that purported
This is the only complete recording of Goetz’s
Taming of the Shrew
available, and only the second ever made. The ebullient, characterful realization is by itself recommendation enough. But the sonic quality is also strikingly clear, re-mastered by Profil with a clear spaciousness that belies the 1955 provenance of the live mono original. It is also available on Gala (100735) for about half the price, though I do not know how the sound compares.
From the opening pages of the overture, Keilberth leads with an appropriately light touch, emphasizing the pensive, broad meditation just before the recapitulation. Throughout the performance details emerge that underscore the quality of the orchestra and subtlety of the interpretation. One of the most striking features of the sound world of this opera is the frequent and witty use of wind quintet textures against a subdued string backdrop; the Munich soloists respond with humane and light-hearted eloquence.
The Katharina, Anneliese Kupper, lends a dark-tinged dramatic soprano heft to her reading of the lead female role. While this is appropriately humorous so long as Kate is in shrew-mode, the role does not call for a Brünnhilde, an Elektra, nor even a Danae—the part she sang in the world-premiere production (and recording) of Strauss’s opera in Salzburg in 1952. She does tone it down for much of the performance, and she and her sister Bianca turn in some vibrant singing; and her speech of acquiescence near the end is controlled and eloquent, holding much in reserve.
A prominent Walther of his time, Waldemar Kmentt lends his baritonally heroic tones to the role of Lucentio, the wooer of Bianca. He is aptly matched with Elisabeth Lindermeier in that role; her creamily light timbre is suited to the material, even if scoops and occasional pitch lapses show in the early going. By act III, the voice has settled down, and she floats some charming, light high notes. The two singers’ act I duet has a poignancy in its stylistic shifts and a kind of lilting
connecting it to the world of operetta. Another prominent singer of the 1950s, Marcel Cordes, uses his ringing and flexible bass-baritone to shift with Petruccio’s catchy, strophes, swaying between swagger and crooning sentimentality, all fully appropriate. His cavatina before the second-act finale is particularly memorable.
As so often in recordings of comic opera from the 1950s and 1960s, the vibrantly dark yet personable bass of Gottlob Frick (Baptista) comes close to stealing the show. There was something about the warm, droll expressivity of his voice that radiated jovial grandiosity like no other.
Unfortunately no texts (hence no translations) are included, so an essential dimension of the opera will be missing for those listeners unable to follow the exceptionally clear German diction of the principles and disciplined enunciation of the chorus. Worse, there is also no included synopsis, just an itemized track listing on the back cover, so the listener is really at a loss, the non-German speaker more so. The Gala version of this recording also lacks a libretto, but at least there is a synopsis.
Ultimately, this release is essential for anyone curious about the world of 19th-century opera beyond Wagner. Goetz has an elegant, yet understated voice which will not change one’s life, but will enrich it just a bit.
FANFARE: Christopher Williams
Works on This Recording
Der Widerspenstigen Zähmung by Hermann Goetz
Gottlob Frick (Bass),
Annelies Kupper (Soprano),
Waldemar Kmentt (Tenor),
Elisabeth Lindermeier (Soprano),
Benno Kusche (Bass Baritone),
John Kuhn (Tenor),
Marcel Cordes (Tenor),
Paul Kuen (Tenor),
Gertrud Vollrad (Alto)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Length: 136 Minutes 24 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Switzerland (1868 - 1872).
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