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Schumann: Genoveva / Banse, Mathey, Harnoncourt

Schumann / Banse / Mathey / Ganther Harnoncourt
Release Date: 10/28/2008 
Label:  Arthaus Musik   Catalog #: 101327  
Composer:  Robert Schumann
Performer:  Alfred MuffShawn MatheyCornelia KallischMartin Gantner,   ... 
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera House OrchestraZurich Opera House Chorus
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHUMANN Genoveva Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond; Juliane Banse ( Genoveva ); Shawn Mathey ( Golo ); Martin Gantner ( Siegfried ); Cornelia Kallisch ( Margaretha ); Alfred Muff ( Drago ); Zurich Op House O & Ch ARTHAUS 101 327 (DVD: Read more 146:00) Live: Zurich 2008

Though I am a little hesitant to call this production of Genoveva “Eurotrash,” in the end I am afraid that the description most likely fits all too well. I am not in general opposed to reinterpretations of opera that involve settings, character readjustment, etc., though I also feel that this is done with far too little regard for the sense of historical influence on the creation of any particular work. Hence, the liberties taken with Wagner do not seem to me out of bounds in many cases, as Wagner himself, I believe, chose the realm of mythology to transcend any limitations of time and space on his message. For other operas, a limitation of some sort seems almost mandatory in order to make a convincing case for the message.

In this case, Genoveva , set as a medieval tale of revenge based on lust and the inability to break the virtue and will of its protagonist, does not seem especially tied to its environs as envisioned by the composer. The idea of a virtuous woman being hounded to give in to the desires of an otherwise virtuous man (who is blinded by his obsession with her), and in the end even giving up life itself for the sake of her reputation and that of her husband (who too easily seems ready to believe the worst about her), is something that can be shifted out of one locale, no matter how realistic, and into one consisting primarily of symbolism.

So we have this production, consisting of a white boxed room (which gradually gets painting, red and black, marked on its walls, as does Genoveva herself, to remind us of “marks” against her purity) and characters that are basically of one emotional type—the main complaint I have against this production. Genoveva is zombie-like in expression, passionless, and rather Amish-looking. Her husband Siegfried looks as though he is an unhappy businessman coming home from Happy Hour. Golo, the catalyst for everything that happens in the opera, and a sort of anti-hero poised for perfection but equally radical in his bad choices, looks like he has come from a high-class party where he had too much to drink. Margaretha, part witch and part confidant, is the most obviously unscrupulous, and also the most difficult to transport out of medievalism into modern times. These are the principles that interact with one another for the majority of the opera.

Basically, the plot of this very well-known German tale is this: Siegfried leaves town and puts his virtuous wife under the care of his most trusted friend (Golo), who then makes advances upon her and is rebuffed. Feeling shamed and stupid, Golo also gets mean and sets the townsfolk (and Siegfried) against Genoveva, who is about to be killed by Golo’s henchman (at the husband’s order) when Siegfried, somehow, comes to his senses and stops the murder before it happens. Of course Margaretha (who was Golo’s nurse and consequently banned from the house of Siegfried for using black magic) has her hand in the encouragement of the revenge, a settling of scores she is also seeking. In the end, Golo disappears forever, Siegfried kills Margeretha, and Genoveva’s virtues are praised.

The white décor with the tarnished colors is effective and descriptive. Certain actions, like Genoveva walking around the room and stepping up and down on the lone bathroom-style sink (also used for urination later in act IV) are nonsensical. The crowd scenes accusing Genoveva are frightening, and even the scene of token nudity, where she is seen by her husband as in a vision (nakedness symbolizing her adultery), works well. But it is the singing that is the real star in this show. Juliane Banse, for all her rather stone-faced acting, plays the heroine very well and breathes real life into Schumann’s not-always-easy lines. Primary vocal difficulties are inherited by Shawn Mathey’s Golo, a rugged part with a lot of angst that can be easily overplayed but is not here. Martin Gantner is a suitably stupid noble who expects things of his wife that he obviously cannot match in his own character, and the tormented figure of Margeretha is sung with complete abandon by Cornelia Kallisch. Schumann’s music is, of course, glorious, and Harnoncourt brings some insightful, sharp-edged, and excessively lyrical conducting to play here, completely unlike his earlier Teldec recording with an all-star cast that I like but also dislike for many reasons.

The sound is offered in DD 5.1 and standard PCM and is wonderful. Though this is a bit of mad dream for director Martin Kuseg, this time the madness works very well, and it is only right that the sole Genoveva on the market is a worthy one.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Genoveva – Juliane Banse
Golo – Shawn Mathey
Siegfried – Martin Gantner
Margaretha – Cornelia Kallisch
Drago – Alfred Muff
Hidulfus – Ruben Drole
Balthasar – Tomasz Slawinski
Caspar – Matthew Leigh

Martin Kušej, stage director

Recorded live from the Zurich Opera House, 2008

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Menu language: English
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 146 mins
No. of DVDs.: 1 (DVD 9)
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Works on This Recording

Genoveva, Op. 81 by Robert Schumann
Performer:  Alfred Muff (Bass), Shawn Mathey (Tenor), Cornelia Kallisch (Alto),
Martin Gantner (Tenor), Juliane Banse (Soprano), Ruben Drole (Voice),
Tomasz Slawinski (Voice), Matthew Leigh (Voice)
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Zurich Opera House Orchestra,  Zurich Opera House Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1846-1849; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Live Zurich Opera House, Switzerland 

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