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E.T.A. Hoffmann: Liebe Und Eifersucht / Hofstetter, Sellier, Gerstberger, Simson, Specht, Martin

Hoffmann / Martin / Sellier / Odls / Hofstetter
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777435   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  E.T.A. Hoffmann
Performer:  Christina GerstbergerSybille SpechtRobert SellierGary Martin,   ... 
Conductor:  Michael Hofstetter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ludwigsburg Festival Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

E. T. A. HOFFMANN Liebe und Eifersucht Michael Hofstetter, cond; Gary Martin ( Duke of Florence ); Robert Sellier ( Enrico ); Florian Simson ( Ottavio ); Christina Gerstberger ( Lisida ); Thérèse Wincent ( Cloris ); Sybille Specht ( Nisa ); Read more Sybilla Duffe ( Celia ); Ludwigsburg Op O CPO 777435 (2 CDs: 121:56 Text and Translation) Live: Ludwigsburg 7/27–28/2008

Here is an overall fine performance (and, from what I can tell, a world premiere recording) of a long-neglected comic opera-singspiel by the enigmatic E. T. A. Hoffmann, who so admired Mozart that he changed his third name to Amadeus. One of the real enigmas about Hoffmann is that, though he wrote 11 singspiels (one of which, Der Kanonikus von Mailand, is lost), not one of them is based on any of his famous and marvelous tales. The reason for this is that he considered his stories to be mere popular fiction, figments of his imagination not fit for operatic treatment. Liebe und Eifersucht, based on Schlegel’s translations of Calderón’s plays, is your typical silly comedy with the ubiquitous love triangle, unrequited love, and mistaken signs of affection—in short, just as silly as the plots of Mozart’s Così fan tutte and many other Italian, and German, singspiels of the era. But like Così, it is the quality of the music that redeems it, and it is the music that most deeply involves us.

Hoffmann wrote in a style combining the melodiousness and elegance of Mozart with the more forward-looking music of Beethoven, hence he bridges the gap between Mozart-Haydn opera and that of Weber, Lortzing, and Marschner. Listening to Liebe und Eifersucht, one hears much that is so much like Mozart that it could have been written by Wolfgang himself, but then there are turns of phrase, and harmonic changes, where one thinks Beethoven. Undine, often cited as his most forward-looking and influential opera, may indeed have been influential but is curiously uneven in quality. The good sections are very, very good, but the majority of the music is pedestrian and uninspired.

Liebe und Eifersucht (1807) is consistently excellent, not only in its balancing act of Mozartian and Beethovenian qualities, but in its sense of musical development throughout its three acts. Indeed, some passages, like the extended act I finale, are so good that only its silly plot keeps this work from being as popular as Così. Despite spending many years as a civil servant, and being an incurable alcoholic to boot, Hoffmann was an extremely well-grounded composer. Aside from his operas, I also highly recommend his innovative and fascinating Harp Quintet (available on cpo 999309).

The singspiel is splendidly played by Michael Hofstetter and the Ludwigsburg orchestra. The singers are a bit of a mixed bag, good enough to give a favorable impression if not on the level of the best singers today. Tenor Robert Sellier, in the lead role of Enrico, has a sweet tone and very obviously knows Mozart style. His voice production is a bit fluttery at times, but overall quite good. Christina Gerstberger, as Lisida, has one of those overripe vibratos that some love and others hate. I find her hard to take in solo arias, where her upper register also sounds strained, but in ensembles she adds a nice sheen to the proceedings. She is, at least, better than Thérèse Wincent (Cloris), who is often flat. Bass Gary Martin, as the Duke of Florence, has a very fine voice and good placement, if a bit dry of tone. Sybille Specht and Sybilla Duffe are superb. If I make these small criticisms of the cast, I wish readers to understand that I am comparing them to the best singers of this repertoire out there today, but I also realize that we’re not going to get Patricia Petibon, Miah Persson, Topi Lehtipuu, or Gerald Finley performing this opera unless very big bucks entice them to do so.

Indeed, it is the consistently high level of involvement from cast, conductor, and orchestra that makes this performance work, and in turn makes the music work. I recently reviewed an extremely interesting Salieri opera that I felt was sabotaged (unintentionally, of course) by a cast of singers so bad that they were virtually unlistenable. Here, except for Gerstberger’s flutter and Wincent’s pitch problems, the singing is much better if not outstanding. I have been critical of other cpo releases in the past, but this one hits the bull’s-eye. For a live performance, the recording balance is also remarkably fine, capturing the singers in a good soundspace without recessing them or the orchestra too much.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Liebe und Eifersucht, AV 33 by E.T.A. Hoffmann
Performer:  Christina Gerstberger (Voice), Sybille Specht (Voice), Robert Sellier (Tenor),
Gary Martin (Bass), Florian Simson (Tenor), Jorg Simon (Voice),
Sybilla Duffe (Voice)
Conductor:  Michael Hofstetter
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ludwigsburg Festival Orchestra

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