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Schubert: Alfonso und Estrella / Bär, Orgonasova, Hampson

Schubert / Bar / Orgonasova / Hampson / Harnoncour
Release Date: 02/24/2009 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 2110260  
Composer:  Franz Schubert
Performer:  Endrik WottrichLuba OrgonasovaOlaf BärThomas Hampson,   ... 
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of EuropeArnold Schoenberg Choir
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 20 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews



SCHUBERT Alfonso und Estrella Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond; Olaf Bär ( Mauregato ); Luba Orgonasova ( Estrella ); Alfred Muff ( Adolfo ); Thomas Hampson ( Froila ); Endrik Wottrich ( Alfonso ); Arnold Schoenberg Ch; CO of Europe NAXOS 2.110260 (DVD: Read more 139:44) Live: Vienna 5/1997


Just in case you haven’t ever read the libretto, much less seen a production of Alfonso und Estrella —and that defines a lot of operagoers—yes, it really is as naively untheatrical as people have noted over the years. Franz von Schober’s text is a mess in terms of plot, character definition, timing, consistency, and structure. Schubert’s music sometimes has little to do with the emotions being expressed, and occasionally (as in an important act I concertato ) provides the same melodic line successively without changes to people giving vent to contradictory feelings. But the opera is still full of Schubert’s music. It is occasionally appropriate to the situation, always lyrical, and invariably touched with the magic he possessed.


Much of the credit belongs here to stage director Jürgen Flimm. He imposes coherence on the libretto by turning its stereotyped characters into archetypes through a mix of realistic costuming and stage props set against expressionistic, almost Turneresque backdrops. (It helps that the plot, during the last 15 minutes of the opera, becomes Son of “The Magic Flute.” ) Making King Mauregato of León physically blind instead of only internally so was clever, as a reflection on both his paranoia and zeal for war. Flimm is also to be thanked for his relatively low-keyed (at least, through most of the performance) pressing of war’s futility, mainly seen through the poverty of the two courts—Mauregato’s, and that of his vanquished predecessor, Froila. None of this is specifically mentioned in the libretto, though it certainly lies within its spirit. Kudos, too, to both Florence von Gerkan for her costumes, and Erich Wonder for his set design—especially act II’s sepia-toned backdrop of a middleclass living room that clearly represented some idealized memory from the past in Mauregato’s mind.


The cast, for the most part, is excellent. Hampson is magnificent as the aging Froila, his abilities as a Lieder singer very much to the fore, without losing the larger sound required by the orchestral accompaniment. Nearly as much can be said for Orgonasova, who has strong control of a refined sound throughout her extended range. Bär, too, sings well, and Muff is both forceful and dramatic, despite some rough patches in the upper range of his voice. Wottrich suffers from the opposite problem: his tone has a worn edge except when the voice rises towards its upper range. The acting throughout is effective from all parties. Harnoncourt conducts a vital yet sensitive reading, with great attention paid to his soloists. It is nice for a change to watch his stickless, two-handed conducting method during introductory passages, instead of observing audience members, outdoor fountains, ticket takers, busts of composers, etc.


That brings us to the excellent camerawork. There are more moderately long shots than one is used to, emphasizing both the subdivided stage and the active groupings on it. Facial expressions aren’t lost, thanks to a generous amount of close-ups, but they aren’t the sole focus of attention, as in so many poorly filmed operatic stage productions.


Sound is available in Dolby Digital and Digital DTS surround, with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Subtitles are in English and German. The production is complete, save for part of one scene that brings back the villain and explains a plot detail that still remains unclear afterwards. There are no added features, but what do you need? You are either open to Schubert, or you aren’t. If you are, get this DVD.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
---------------------------------

Mauregato – Olaf Bär
Estrella – Luba Orgonasova
Adolfo – Alfred Muff
Froila – Thomas Hampson
Alfonso – Endrik Wottrich

Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, conductor
Jürgen Flimm, stage director
Erich Wonder, set design
Florence von Gerkan, costumes

Filmed at the Theater an der Wien during performances in Wiener Festwochen, May 1997.

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: Dolby Digital 2.0 / Dolby Surround 5.0
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German
Running time: 140 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9)
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Works on This Recording

1.
Alfonso und Estrella, D 732 by Franz Schubert
Performer:  Endrik Wottrich (Tenor), Luba Orgonasova (Soprano), Olaf Bär (Baritone),
Thomas Hampson (Baritone), Alfred Muff (Bass)
Conductor:  Nikolaus Harnoncourt
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chamber Orchestra of Europe,  Arnold Schoenberg Choir
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1821; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 05/1997 
Venue:  Theater an der Wien 

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