Notes and Editorial Reviews
After CPO issued a recording in 2006 with Siegmund Nimsgern, and Karl Anton Rickenbacher conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, this is the second recording of Rudi Stephan’s Die Ersten Menschen – “The First Humans”.
If you haven’t found this opera the first time around, here’s a second chance to appreciate this odd and appealing work of the youthful and perhaps confused Rudi Stephan. This is his magnum opus, and Stephan finished it just before the war – which is fortuitous, because less than a year later, aged 28, he lay dead with a bullet in his head, somewhere on the Eastern Front.
The music is in the realm of Germanic post-Wagnerism: more Schreker, Pfitzner, Strauss than Mahler, or Berg. It abounds in
colorful scoring, melodical, lyrical stretches, it exudes most of the mystic, erotic, orgiastic, religious, sensually sexual oddness of the libretto, it has three, four – more or less similar – powerful climaxes. It plays with a large orchestra and organ, holds long pedal points, and shifts colors, includes the glockenspiel and lecherous saxophone notes. Yet it seems to repeat itself to the point of offering a sense of 90 minutes of ‘same-ness’, although not in a displeasing way. (The opera presented with some significant cuts here, surely not to its detriment.)
That’s not much of a criticism in light of so much intriguing music to be heard by a young man still and audibly influenced by the reverberations of the Wagner operas. And how to top Wagner, not just on account of ambiguous tonality but also as regards offering a more peculiar libretto? Well, instead of regular, Wagnerian Brother-Sister or Nephew-Aunt incest, Stephan sets an Otto Borngräber libretto that suggests Mother-Son incest – namely that Cain wants Eve, and Eve Abel (except they are named Kajin, Chabel, Chawa, and Adahm). Kajin, sung with booming excellence by Washington regular Donnie Ray Albert, interferes and slays Chabel (Wolfgang Millgram). Chawa, who is displayed as a sort of prophet to Chabel’s proto-Jesus, is sung by the fine Nancy Gustafson, and Franz Hawlata enlivens the otherwise dulled down Adahm who is more interested in agricultural matters than satisfying his lusty wife. The young Finnish conductor Mikko Franck makes the Orchestre National de France sound like a first class ensemble. It’s a wickedly good 90 minutes and stylistically and qualitatively it fits perfectly with the two other operas here mentioned: Dukas’ Ariane and Korngold’s Heliane.
Jens F. Laurson – WETA 90.9 Read less
Works on This Recording
Die ersten Menschen by Rudi Stephan
Nancy Gustafson (Soprano),
Sarah Nemtanu (Violin),
Wolfgang Millgramm (Tenor),
Donnie Ray Albert (Baritone),
Franz Hawlata (Bass)
French National Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Date of Recording: 01/24/2004
Venue: Live Olivier Messiaen Hall, Paris, France
Length: 93 Minutes 2 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Germany (1909 - 1914).
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