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Ries: Die Rauberbraut / Griffiths, Wolff, Speer, Borchert, Ziesak

Release Date: 01/28/2014 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777655   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ferdinand Ries
Performer:  Konstantin WolffRuth ZiesakJulia BorchertYorck Felix Speer
Conductor:  Howard Griffiths
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio ChorusCologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

RIES Die Räuberbraut Howard Griffiths, cond; Ruth Ziesak ( Laura ); Julia Borchert ( Gianettina ); Thomas Blondelle ( Fernando ); Jochen Kupfer ( Count Viterbo ); Christian Immler ( Anselmo ); Konstantin Wolff ( Carlo ); Yorck Felix Speer ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Roberto ); Dirk Schmitz ( Pietro ); WDR SO & C CPO 777 655-2 (2 CDs: 124:53 Text and Translation)

Ferdinand Ries was a German composer born in Bonn in the latter part of the great German Classical era in music. Ries missed both Mozart and Haydn, but became first a pupil of Beethoven in Vienna, then his secretary, confidant, and fast friend. The young protégé enjoyed quite a successful musical career of his own as a pianist, orchestral leader, and composer, but he is as much remembered today for his biographical portraits of Beethoven as for his own music. Much of Ries’s composition work, including symphonies, concertos, and chamber music, is currently available on CD. Der Raüberbraut (The Robber Bride) is Ries’s first opera, op. 156, which premiered in Frankfurt am Main in 1828. The opera saw some extended success, particularly in other German houses, then sank without a trace into operatic oblivion. CPO in conjunction with WDR Cologne has not exactly revived the opera here; this is a studio recording of the musical numbers only, but at least we are given a chance to hear this long-interred music.

I am familiar with both Rossini’s first opera, La Cambiale di matrimonio (1810), and Verdi’s first, Oberto conte di San Bonifacio (1839). Judging from those two, this is not a bad first effort for Ries. But of course both Rossini and Verdi began composing operas in their teens, whereas Ries began in his mid-40s. Both of those Italian opera masters required several operas before they hit their stride and began turning out hits. Ries was to live only nine more years beyond the premiere of Der Raüberbraut , compose only two more operas, and never establish much of a place in the operatic pantheon. Perhaps schooling from Beethoven in theatrical work was not the best of preparation, the German master struggled mightily himself with his own single creation, Fidelio , displaying many of the same strengths and weaknesses as found in Ries’s first effort. The composer here seems almost over-qualified when writing for the orchestra; he has a real Germanic affinity for the choral forces, and writes pretty well in ensembles, but he shows uncertainty and weakness in the arias for his principal singers, with a lack of melodic invention and bravura passages. Ries was not helped by a libretto that was confusingly complex and full of dramatic inconsistencies and holes. He demanded changes from his librettist, but never really solved the problem of turning technical mastery into effective musical drama.

It is a bit difficult to piece together all the twists and turns of the plot, as CPO gives us only the text and translation of the musical numbers, which is what is performed. In short, there is one girl, Laura, with two suitors and a father, a Count, on the run as a political enemy of the current regime. One of Laura’s suitors, Roberto, a bass, is the head of a band of outlaws helping her father escape. The title really should be “Robber Fiancée,” for Laura never marries Roberto; in fact she loves the other suitor, tenor Fernando. He is a young soldier duty-bound to arrest her father, the Count. Laura pledges herself to the bandit king in turn for his badly needed assistance, but in act III Roberto is mortally wounded and releases Laura from her pledge. The evil regime is tossed out, the Count is no longer an enemy, and Laura is free to marry Fernando. Everything ends happily, if it remains a bit muddled as to how it all quite got there.

Musically, the cast, orchestra, and chorus make the best of what Ries has provided them. Thomas Blondelle, the Fernando, is a light, sweet-voiced, Germanic tenor in the Fritz Wunderlich mold. He sings everything well here except for the brief bel canto coloratura Ries asks for. Blondelle struggles a bit with that, as do the other cast members, but the tenor has the most of it. Soprano Ruth Ziesak has been at the opera business for a while, but still sounds fresh-voiced and youthful in the role of Laura. She also still has in place a secure and cleanly sung top register; her high notes evoke shivers of pleasure rather than winces. Baritone Jochen Kupfer as the Count and bass Yorck Felix Speer as Roberto competently provide the lower registers of Ries’s score and round out the quartet of singers that virtually do all of the singing. The composer showcases the orchestra in this work with an overture, some orchestral interludes, and a nearly 15-minute ballet in six parts. The WDR orchestra and chorus both do yeomen’s work on this recording, and do it very well. Sound and balance are first-rate.

I have criticized CPO in the past for shortcomings on some other discs, but they get just about everything right here, and should be commended. The forgotten opera of composer Ries can be evaluated on its own merits and not based on a poor performance or poor recording. I only wish the label had given us all the dialogue and a full libretto. If you are a bit adventurous, give it a try. Recommended.

FANFARE: Bill White
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Works on This Recording

Die Räuberbraut, Op.156 by Ferdinand Ries
Performer:  Konstantin Wolff (Baritone), Ruth Ziesak (Soprano), Julia Borchert (Soprano),
Yorck Felix Speer (Baritone)
Conductor:  Howard Griffiths
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne West German Radio Chorus,  Cologne West German Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 

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