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Hartmann: Simplicius Simplicissimus / Ryan, Mahnke, Aken

Hartmann / Mahnke / Aken / Gohrig / Ebbecke
Release Date: 01/30/2007 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101255  
Composer:  Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Performer:  Mark MunkittrickFrank van AkenMichael EbbeckeHeinz Göhrig,   ... 
Conductor:  Kwamé Ryan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart State Opera ChorusStuttgart State Opera Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

K. A. HARTMANN Simplicius simplicissimus Kwamé Ryan, cond; Claudia Mahnke ( Simplicius ); Frank van Aken ( Hermit ); Heinz Göhrig ( Governor ); Stuttgart St Op O & Ch ARTHAUS 101 255 (DVD: 85 minutes) Live: Stuttgart 2005

Karl Amadeus Hartmann wrote Simplicius Read more simplicissimus in 1934–35, when the composer was already in “self-imposed exile” from the new Nazi regime, although still living in Munich. Like Hindemith’s contemporary Mathis der Maler, this opera is about a society in crisis—here the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648)—but also reflects on Germany at the time of its composition. The idea for the opera came from conductor Hermann Scherchen, who wrote the libretto with the composer. It is based on the eponymous 1668 novel by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, who had been impressed into the Thirty Years’ War as a boy of 10. The introductory remarks, and the opera itself, make much of the statistics: in 1618, there were 12 million people in the lands we know today as Germany; 12 million died during those 30 years, leaving only four million survivors. These numbers are symbolized by Simplicius, a naive shepherd boy who is twice a lone survivor. He knows nothing of good or evil, only that playing his bagpipes will keep the wolf away from his sheep; he doesn’t even know what a wolf is, so he takes marauding strangers to be wolves. The first time he is orphaned by the war, he is befriended by a hermit, who takes him in and educates him. After the hermit’s death, he is taken to the court of a governor who, amused by a boy who knows no better than to tell the truth, makes him his jester. Explaining a dream he once had, Simplicius predicts that the peasants will rise up and slay the governor and his court, which they do. Much has been made of Hartmann’s own abilities as a truth teller who could predict the future—except that the Nazi regime was destroyed by outside forces in World War II.

The music is acute German expressionism, more advanced than Hindemith’s, and more awkward. As befits its subject matter, it has little beauty but much power. This production is of the chamber-orchestra original; a 1995 Wergo audio recording (62592, two CDs) used Hartmann’s 1956 full-orchestra revision. Rather than following a cohesive plot, we are given a series of Brechtian snapshots; there are even touches of Weill’s Mahagonny in the music. A small yet excellent orchestra carries most of the musical interest, so that the performers on stage can stress the dramatic. While there is both speech and song, the latter is simple and direct, often not far above recitative. The characters generally express themselves in brief phrases that offer little chance for lyricism. Nevertheless, the whole hangs together well, making as strong a musical impression as it does dramatic. Mahnke’s portrayal of Simplicius is extremely moving, from his first terrified reactions to strangers, through his gradual education, to his final prophesying. The other characters are well managed, but the production is needlessly mystifying and occasionally silly, perhaps in a misguided search for depth. A woman walks in a tiny circle, seemingly forever, without contributing anything (the circling has little to do with her later role in the story). At least one can give the director credit for not ruining the opera, as so many contemporary Eurotrash productions do.

Sound and picture quality are first-rate, although there is little here for the video or audiophile. One may choose English, German, French, or Spanish for the spoken introduction, plus Italian, or none, for subtitles. The audio is PCM Stereo, the picture format 16:9, and the region code zero (worldwide). While Simplicius simplicissimus is not for the general opera-lover, a strong work of art is well represented by this DVD.

FANFARE: James H. North

Simplicius – Claudia Mahnke
Eremit – Frank van Aken
Gouverneur – Heinz Göhrig
Landsknecht – Michael Ebbecke
Hauptmann – Mark Munkittrick
Bauer – Helmut Berger-Tuna
Dame – Márcia Haydée

Picture Format: NTSC 16:9
Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Region Code: 0 (All Regions)
Menu Languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Subtitle Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running Time: 85 mins
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Works on This Recording

Simplicius Simplicissimus by Karl Amadeus Hartmann
Performer:  Mark Munkittrick (Bass), Frank van Aken (Tenor), Michael Ebbecke (Baritone),
Heinz Göhrig (Tenor), Claudia Mahnke (Mezzo Soprano), Helmut Berger-Tuna (Bass),
Márcia Haydée (Voice)
Conductor:  Kwamé Ryan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart State Opera Chorus,  Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1934-1935 

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