This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) was a Dresden composer—those familiar with Mozart's letters will recall a contemptuous aside about his church music when Mozart visited the city—who spent several years in Scandinavia. While there, he wrote what is in effect regarded as the Swedish national opera, Gustaf Wasa; composed in 1783 and produced in 1786, it treats of an episode in sixteenth-century Swedish history when Wasa freed the country from Danish domination, in spite of the cruel threats (at least according to this libretto) of the Danish king, Christjern.
He called it, with Gluck's recent operas in mind, a lyrisk tragedi, and although the music itself is thoroughly middle European (that is, decidedly Italian-influenced),
the structure and general approach do have strong resemblances to those of Gluck's mature, French-style operas or tragèclies lyriques, and the actual language is often markedly Gluckian. There are few expansive or formal arias, much recitative (most of it orchestrally accompanied) and several ensembles, forming a more or less continuous texture, as well as a good deal of work for the chorus and several ballet sequences, including (like Idomeneo, two years earlier) a final chaconne. The overture, astonishingly, starts like a Handel operatic French overture, barely updated in style, though the fugue doesn't stay fugal very long. It effectively, a la Gluck, sets the mood for what is an intense and dramatic opera, surely just about the most nationalist opera of its day with its villainous Danes and its brave, oppressed Swedes.
Simply in terms of quality and originality, the music is unexceptional; but it is extremely well written, with the touch of an experienced professional and man of the theatre (Naumann wrote some 25 operas in all), and the actual invention is always very apt — there are several stirring arias for Gustaf, a long, noble scene where the Swedes pledge their loyalty and determination, and a number of ensembles of a tragic or mournful cast (mostly mourning the Swedish heroes whom Christjern has killed off before the opera begins — and who, Macbeth-like, return in parade to haunt him). Naumann is good at setting atmosphere, with his solemn choruses, his richly accompanied monologues, his colourful ballets; there is a particularly fine ballet or mime sequence forming the second half of Act 2, where Gustaf and Christjern have dreams presaging the next day's battles. The monologue for Gustaf, lamenting his mother, whose death at Christjern's hands is threatened, with military music intervening in the background, is particularly effective.
The present recording is based on a production of the opera given in 1991 by the Royal Swedish Opera. The principals, with one notable exception, are little known, but they give a remarkably good account of the piece in their confident and persuasive singing. The two main women's roles, Cecilia (Gustais mother) and Christina (widow of a Swedish hero killed by the Danes), are warmly and vigorously sung by Dorrit Kleimert and Lena Nordin, while Tord Wallström gives a sturdy and thoughtful portrayal of the single good Dane, Norrby; and Anders Andersson rises to the challenges of Gustaf's role, which demands singing both lyrically expressive and forcefully heroic. Nicolas Gedda, if he cannot quite escape sounding slightly older than King Christjern seems likely to be, brings to the role great clarity of diction and precision of line, and passion too, and is a great pleasure to listen to. The admirable chorus and orchestra of the Royal Swedish Opera perform with vitality and enthusiasm under Philip Brunelle.
The opera is performed in an edition more 'authentic' to Naumann's original than was the 1786 premiere (what price 'authenticity'?), in that some of his secco recitative is restored, and another composer's additions are excluded; but there are also cuts in the recitative and the ballets. There is an excellent note by the leading authority on Swedish opera of the time, Bertil van Boer, but my copy has four pages of the libretto missing. This is a fascinating issue and enthusiasts of eighteenth-century opera will find much to enjoy in it.
-- Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [3/1996]
Works on This Recording
Gustaf Wasa by Johann Gottlieb Naumann
Lena Nordin (Soprano),
Inger Blom (Mezzo Soprano),
Staffan Sandlund (Bass),
Henrik Westberg (Baritone),
Tord Wallstrom (Bass),
Eva Pilat (Soprano),
Dorrit Kleimert (Soprano),
Marie Dimpker (),
Nicolai Gedda (Tenor),
Anders Andersson (Tenor)
Royal Stockholm Opera Orchestra,
Royal Stockholm Opera Chorus
Written: 1783; Sweden
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